THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Karnataka has used the ordinance route to ban cattle slaughter in the State. The Cabinet approved the “Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Ordinance, 2021” on December 29. Governor Vajubhai Vala promulgated the ordinance on January 5. The State Legislative Assembly passed the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2020, on December 9, but it could not be tabled in the Legislative Council. The Council was convened for a day on December 15 for the purpose of getting the Bill passed, but nothing could be discussed that day because of a ruckus in the House.
The BJP did not have the required numbers in the Council but was hoping to get the support of the Janata Dal (Secular) to see the Bill through. The BJP, the Congress and the JD (S) had 31, 29 and 14 members respectively, out of a total strength of 75, in the Legislative Council on December 15. But the saffron party’s plans were stymied by members from the BJP and the Congress physically tussling with each other after the Deputy Chairman of the Council, belonging to the JD (S), occupied the Chairman’s seat. Nothing could be discussed.
The State Cabinet then chose the ordinance route to go ahead with its agenda. The ordinance makes the slaughter, sale and consumption of all bovine meat forbidden in Karnataka. Only buffaloes over 13 years can be slaughtered.
A ban on bovine slaughter has repeatedly figured in the BJP’s election manifesto over the years, although Karnataka already had an Act (The Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964) that prevented cow slaughter. There are two major differences between the 1964 Act and the 2021 ordinance. First, the ordinance prohibits slaughter of “cattle”, which it defines as “cow, calf of a cow and bull, bullock of all ages and he or she buffalo below the age of the thirteen years”. The 1964 Act restricted the slaughter of only “cows, calves of cows and calves of she-buffaloes”. It allowed for the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and buffaloes if they were over 12 years or if they were no longer fit for breeding, pulling loads or providing milk.
The other significant difference is the quantum of punishment for violators. Under the 1964 Act, the maximum imprisonment was six months, whereas under the new ordinance the offender can “be punished with imprisonment which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to seven years”. It also provides for the “protection of persons acting in good faith”. There is, therefore, a real fear that vigilantes could be empowered to target Muslims and Dalits who are primarily involved in the trade and transport of cattle in Karnataka. Indeed, the provisions of the ordinance are harsher than even those of a similar Bill introduced in 2010 when the BJP was in power in the State. That Bill was withdrawn when the Congress came to power under Siddaramaiah in 2013.
When the latest Bill came up for discussion in the Assembly on December 9, BJP MLAs draped saffron shawls around themselves to symbolically establish its association with the Hindutva ideology. After the Cabinet cleared the ordinance, Animal Husbandry Minister Prabhu Chavan stated, “In a few days, it will be a law. No more cattle slaughter in the State. The BJP is firm on protecting cows, so the Bill has been implemented through an ordinance.”
Opposition to ban
The Congress and the JD (S) have opposed the ban. Siddaramaiah said, in his characteristic outspoken manner: “I eat cattle meat, who are you to ask?” He even gently admonished his own party colleagues for not taking a stand. Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda of the JD (S) also stated that his party would not endorse the ban.
The ban will affect livelihoods, disrupt the rural economy, affect food cultures of different groups and deprive the poor of a cheap source of protein. Opposition to it , therefore, has come from several other quarters.
The Jamiat-ul-Quresh Beef Merchants Charitable Trust, an organisation representing the State’s beef butchers and based in Bengaluru, plans to challenge the ordinance legally. The ban poses a threat to the group’s livelihood. Speaking to Frontline , Khasim Shoaiburrehman Qureshi, a senior member of the organisation, said: “The BJP is misusing the name of the cow. The slaughter of cows and calves is completely banned as per the 1964 Act, so what was the need for a new law that ‘bans’ cow slaughter? We sell bull, bullock, ox and buffalo meat here [in Karnataka]. There is no cow meat that is sold. But if only buffalo meat is sold in the future, the meat requirements cannot be fulfilled as there are simply not enough buffaloes in the State.”
The State’s Livestock Census Report of 2017 states that heads of cattle in the State number 84,69,004, and buffaloes 29,84,560. According to information from the Animal Husbandry Department, 20,086 tonnes of cattle meat was consumed in Karnataka in 2019-20, while only 6,102 tonnes of buffalo meat was consumed in the same year. Thus, if cattle slaughter is banned in Karnataka, there will be a serious shortfall of meat.
The beef retail industry is highly unregulated in Bengaluru. Qureshi estimated that there were around 1,000 beef retail shops in the city, cumulatively selling more than 75 tonnes of beef daily. Qureshi pointed out that while the livelihood of butchers—who, along with their dependents, number around 20,000 in Bengaluru—would be affected directly, there was a whole gamut of ancillary trades that would also be affected. “The people who transport cattle, those who strip and clean the carcasses, the skinners and tanners, informal labourers who load and unload the cattle—even the bones are not thrown away but ground and used—if we truly estimate the number of people who will be affected, it will be in lakhs,” he said.
Nutrition & food culture
Dr Veena Shatrugna, former Deputy Director of the National Institute of Nutrition, spoke to Frontline about the implications of the ban on nutrition. “We are making a joke of the lives and diets of poor people who cannot afford the amount of milk, dry fruits and different pulses that the rich eat at every meal on a daily basis. The poor can only get their protein from something like beef, which is cheaper when compared with other meats, as well as vegetarian components,” she said. Indeed, beef is significantly cheaper than mutton. In Bengaluru, one kilogram of beef costs between Rs.240 and Rs.300 while a kilo of mutton costs Rs.700 or more.
Dr Shatrugna also accused the government of “insensitivity” about the “distinct food cultures” of Dalits, backward castes and religious minorities. “If someone has grown up eating beef, it is part of their food culture and culturally desirable. It is associated with pleasure, a range of memories, and is related to their roots. How can the government bring a law and destroy these eating cultures by banning the slaughter of cattle?” Dr Shatrugna asked.
Dr Sylvia Karpagam, who works in public health, said: “According to data, some 15 per cent of Indians consume beef. This includes Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Other Backward Classes and Adivasis. Some people who eat beef do not disclose it in public because of the social stigma that has been created around the food. It is a valuable source of nutrition as 100 grams of lean beef provides almost 54 per cent of the daily requirement of protein.”
R. Mohanraj, the State president of the Dalit Sangharsh Samithi (DSS), explained how beef-eating was part of the food culture of Dalit communities in Karnataka. “Everyone thinks that this law is targeted against Muslims, but it is the Dalits who are the real targets. Beef-eating is part of the Dalit food culture and by banning cattle slaughter, the BJP is directly assaulting our food culture. I remember when I was a child of seven years growing up in Bangalore [now Bengaluru], my grandparents used to bring beef and enjoy eating it. In rural Karnataka, it is even more common among Dalits and is eaten on a daily basis. The primary enemies in the Brahminical world view are the Dalits. Thus, even with this law, the upper-caste BJP government is targeting the Dalits.”
Impact on rural economy
The ban will have a serious impact on the rural economy. Cattle which have outlived their utility for a farmer are usually sold in local cattle fairs and eventually find their way to slaughter houses. The modest proceeds from such sales help the farmer in times of distress, according to J.M. Veerasangaiah, State Working president, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha. “Once a bull has no use for the farmer, what should he do with it? Now, he sells it for Rs.20,000 to Rs.25,000. In the current situation where farmers’ plight is already so miserable, do they [the BJP] want to completely decimate the farmers’ lives? Just because they want to target one community [Muslims] they are destroying the livelihoods of lakhs of farmers,” Veerasangaiah said. He added that the lifespan of a bull was around 18 to 20 years, which meant that the farmer would have to care for these animals for almost seven years after they stopped being useful.
Considering that the ordinance does not provide any specific way in which this aspect can be addressed, the KRRS is planning a massive protest rally against it.