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“Banning Cow Slaughter in India: Should this be turned from Directive Principle into law?” - No, it is impractical and meaningless.

-- By Dr Ramesh N. Rao

Whether or not to ban cow slaughter has been on the front or back burner of Indian politics at least since 1857.  Gandhiji espoused the cause. The Subjects Committee of the Unity Conference, at the instance of Pandit Malavya, unanimously adopted a resolution in 1924 that cow slaughter shall be banned.  Much later, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court declared that the imposition of the ban is constitutional and is a reasonable restriction on the butcher’s right to kill cattle.  Today, only Kerala and West Bengal allow cow slaughter, but with the BJP at the Center, demand for a total ban on cow slaughter is back on the front burner.

Cow protection is advocated in Buddhism and Jainism, both Indic traditions; even Babar, the most orthodox Muslim of the Mughals, prohibited cow slaughter.  So too did Akbar, Jehangir and Ahmad Shah.  Hyder Ali of Mysore made cow slaughter an offence punishable by cutting off the hands of offenders. 

We know India is a land of striking contrasts and paradoxes.  While Indians ostensibly worship cows, they also butcher over 30, 000 of them daily, usually in unsanitary, ill-managed torture chambers euphemistically called abattoirs.  But the Indian Constitution in Article 48 (Directive Principles of State Policy) lays down quite clearly that the government must protect the cow, its progeny and other cattle used in agriculture.  This is because cow worship is a part of Hindu tradition, despite what certain maverick Brahmin professors at Delhi University say.

The issue has to be debated on principles: why ban only cow slaughter and not the slaughter of all animals?  The cow may be sacred to Hindus, but is the slaughter of pigs, goats and chicken any less cruel? Would it assuage the Hindu conscience merely to ban the slaughter of one of God’s creatures?  This is not to advocate vegetarianism or beef eating so much as to ask the more valid question: who decides which living creature is fit for human consumption? 

In a democracy, the majority may decide.  But it cannot be the role of the Central government to enforce such a ban, simply because the Indian Constitution puts the matter under State jurisdiction.  If all State legislatures also ban the slaughter of any animal, including fish, for human consumption, that is fine too, just as the opposite verdict too should be accepted to allow the slaughter of cows, pigs, chicken or dogs (if Indians take to Thai or Korean cuisine).

Since I don’t see human beings giving up meat in the near future, or the wearing of leather, let us regulate the meat and leather industry so that even if we cannot stop the slaughter we at least do it with the least pain and suffering.

Originally published on August 2002.

 
     
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