Politics of cow slaughter

Published : Sep 12, 2003 00:00 IST

The Bharatiya Janata Party's allies intervene effectively to halt a politically motivated move to ban cow slaughter nationally, as the nation watches with concern.

EVEN if the allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party stood stolidly by it to prop up the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in the voting on the recent no-confidence motion in Parliament, the same sense of loyalty was not on show when Union Agriculture Minister Rajnath Singh attempted to introduce the "Prevention of Cruelty to Cows Bill, 2003," in the Lok Sabha. They, more than the Congress, expressed strong disapproval of the Bill and the manner in which it was sought to be introduced. The message was clear: "Do not take our support for granted."

K. Yerrannaidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) took the lead in making it clear that the Bill should not be introduced. While several members gave notices to Speaker Manohar Joshi opposing the introduction of the Bill, some raised the issue of the Bill being against the fundamental rights of an individual. Some Shiv Sena members demanded the introduction of the Bill and tried to provoke a discussion, which was disallowed by the Speaker. After a brief adjournment, when the Lok Sabha met, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who also holds the Health portfolio, told the Lok Sabha that in view of the sentiments expressed by members, the government had decided to convene an all-party meeting to evolve a consensus on the Bill, which would then be introduced. The acrimony over the Bill was so evident that when at a point when Sushma Swaraj referred to the Bill as being introduced, some members pointed out to her that the Bill had not yet been introduced.

The Bill seeks to prevent cruelty to the cow and its progeny and calls for a ban on the export of cows, prohibits the sale of beef and makes the causing of injury to or killing of the cow a cognisable and non-bailable offence. Among the Opposition parties, only the Left parties protested against the imposition of such a ban, which, they say, overrides the powers of the States. It was stated that the proposed blanket ban was superfluous, as a ban already existed in several States, where the slaughter of milch cows as well as cows below 14 years was prohibited. Veteran CPI(M) parliamentarian Somnath Chatterjee asked Sushma Swaraj if she would not have a consensus on this issue. The Congress chose to remain silent with party spokesperson and Member of Parliament S. Jaipal Reddy averring that though in principle the party was not against a ban, a constitutional amendment was required as the issue was a State subject.

In the event, the Bill was seen as yet another attempt to cause a communal polarisation to benefit the BJP in the forthcoming Assembly elections. G.M. Banatwala of the Indian Union Muslim League called it an "election stunt". However, the BJP's allies seemed reluctant to take the bull by the horns. The TDP, the Trinamul Congress, the Janata Dal (United) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) expressed resentment at not being consulted before the tabling of the Bill. A DMK member suggested that the Bill was anti-Dalit and anti-minority. The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) joined the Left and the Rashtriya Janata Dal in protesting against the proposed Bill. The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M), which discussed the implications of the proposed Bill, stated that the subject of cow slaughter was under the purview of the States and that it could not be imposed by Central legislation.

The now-deferred legislation was intended to give effect to the Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Articles 47 (duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health), 48 (organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry, which includes steps to preserve and improve the breeds and prohibit the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle) and 48A (protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife) of the Constitution.

WHAT does the Bill propose and contain to prevent cruelty to cows? In the statement of objects and reasons, it is said that the cow has been subjected to inhuman cruelty and atrocities in the past, which still continue, resulting in the decline in its growth rate and a sharp reduction in the cow-human ratio. It is further stated that it is expedient, in the interest of the nation, to take effective steps to prevent the cruelty to cows, prohibit and punish cruel treatment of cows, including the killing of cows, which is the most extreme form of cruelty. A uniform Central law is, therefore, sought to be enacted under entry 17 (Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) of the Concurrent List in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution inter alia to prevent "cruelty to cow and its progeny" and ban the "export of cows" and the sale of beef. The Bill also provides for the establishment of institutions by State governments, local authorities or non-governmental organisations for the "reception, maintenance and care of stray, unprotected, infirm, disabled, diseased, barren or abandoned cows".

Interestingly, the ban covers bulls and bullocks too. The definition of injury is comprehensive. It includes, besides killing, torture, abandoning of cows, wilfully permitting cows having any infectious disease to be at large in any street, and injecting any substance to increase lactation. The Bill enjoins upon persons in charge of cows to take all reasonable measures to ensure that the contravention of the provisions of the Act does not take place.

The more serious provisions pertain to the punishment for violating the Act. Anyone who kills or abets in the killing of a cow shall be awarded rigorous imprisonment for a term that may not be less than two years and may extend up to seven years and also pay a hefty fine up to Rs.10,000 on each cow. For causing an injury to a cow, a person would be liable to pay a fine up to Rs.5,000. The Bill further empowers a police officer not below the rank of Sub-Inspector, or any person authorised by the government, to secure compliance with its provisions. Such empowered and authorised persons may enter, stop and search any vehicle used or intended to be used for the transportation of any cow for killing; and seize any cow in respect of which there is sufficient reason to believe that any provision of the Act has been or is being or is about to be contravened, along with the vehicle in which such cow is found.

The Bill also lays down that no suit, prosecution or other legal proceeding shall lie against any officer of the government or local authority or any person for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under the Act or the rules made there under.

There is an obvious communal slant to the Bill, which no doubt, is a reassertion of Hindutva politics by the BJP. And there should be a lurking doubt that it is specifically intended against certain communities. It was not long ago that a mob, instigated by some communal elements, lynched to death four Dalit flayers in Jhajjar district, Haryana. They were allegedly found skinning an animal by the roadside, and rumours had it that the animal was a cow and the four men were Muslims.

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