Divine Bovine A Political Carcass
Indian politics continues to amaze and appal. The recent surge in cow vigilantism after the BJP-led government came into power is no exception. Majority of Hindus in the country mostly in the northern states revere the cow as Gau Mata which provides nourishment and economic stability through its milk, cow dung etc, but its meat eating is refused upon. Not only this many states in the country have banned not only the cow slaughter but also possession and consumption of beef. In fact only five states out of 29 states of the country have fully legalised cow slaughter and beef consumption mainly in south and the northeast.
What law says on cow protection
Preeti Kunwar, a practicing advocate in Supreme Court, writes in an article on The News Minute: “In India, laws banning animal slaughter started taking shape at a time when the nation was still realising its freedom and sovereignty. The objective of the law- makers then, therefore, was to achieve for its citizens a decent standard of living, including, of course, adequate food for all. Hence, in the 1950s when the Constitutionality of the Bihar Preservation and Improvement of Animals Act, 1955, the U.P Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1955 and the C.P and Berar Animal Preservation Act, 1949, came to be challenged before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the case titled as Md. Hanif Quareshi & Ors. vs. State of Bihar, the then Chief Justice of India, Justice S.R. Das, speaking for the majority, had observed – ‘Total ban on the slaughter of cattle, useful or otherwise, is calculated to bring about a serious dislocation, though not a complete stoppage of the business of a considerable section of the people who are by occupation butchers (kasais), hide merchants and so on.’
“A seven-judge Bench upheld the total ban on slaughter of cattle, irrespective of age and usefulness, as Constitutional. Besides the importance of bovine to the economic system and the ‘reasonable restrictions’ under Articles 19(5) and 19(6), this judgment also elaborates on Articles 47 & 48, 48-A and 51A(g) of the Directive Principles of State Policy, which provide for preserving and improving the breed of cattle.” Hence the ban on cow slaughter and beef consumption in most parts of the country.
Earlier, cow protection laws were weakly enforced or given a mere lip service but the landslide victory of the BJP in 2014 general elections gave a moral boost up to the cow vigilantes, who were in sleep mode till then. Demand for new cow-protection laws and their strict enforcement has gained momentum. Gau rakshak samitis have suddenly sprung up in action and took upon themselves to ensure that cows are not slaughtered or consumed.
Cow goes political
The sudden revival of cow vigilantism has taken a more sinister look nowadays. These vigilantes, who were earlier targeting Muslims only, now has set their eyes upon Dalits too. One can clearly understand the link between cows and Dalits. Cows can be called divine but it is not immortal, so when it dies someone is needed to dispose of its carcass. From times unknown this job is bestowed upon Dalits. They use to collect the carcass, skin them and sell the hides to the leather businesses. This not only gives the society the benefit of disposing of the carcass but also gives economic stability to these poor people. But the recent incident in Gujarat has shaken this century-old arrangement.
On July11 2016, seven members of a Dalit family in Gujarat’s Una town, involved in leather trading, were attacked and brutally assaulted. Four of them were stripped half-naked, tied to a car, dragged for about a kilometre and then beaten up with iron rods and sticks. Allegedly they were skinning the carcass of a cow, as proclaimed by the self-proclaimed gau- rakshaks.
Retaliating against the oppression, violent protests broke out throughout Gujarat. Many from the Dalit community attempted suicide in protest. While violence escalated in the state, the only assurance that came from the then Anandiben Patel-led Gujarat government was that of a CID probe into the alleged assault.
Raking up the issue in the Rajya Sabha Opposition parties demanded a check on the cow vigilante groups. In an open letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Lalu Prasad Yadav blamed ‘RSS as well as PM Modi’ for being responsible for this state of affairs. JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav posed questions in the Rajya Sabha that everyone in India should be asking : “Who created these gau rakshaks? Why doesn’t the government ban them?”
Politics surrounding cow and the violence perpetrated in the name of cow protection has escalated in the last few years. Last year, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, by a mob over rumours of possessing beef. It created huge controversy in the country and almost all parties got united against the incident. Interestingly, how few men got the nerves to kill a man over possession of meat didn’t make to the debating table instead it raged on the veracity of claims of Akhlaq possessing beef or not.
Meanwhile, the Dalit crisis in Gujarat gave leaders like Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati a chance to train their guns on the Modi government. In fact, the states, where cow vigilantism is most rampant, is also a centres of atrocities against Dalits, 63 per cent of which occur in just four states: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan and these were the areas where the BJP fared best in 2014 elections. So, the incident of Una not only gives an insight into the Dalits desperation towards getting justice, it also gives a clarion call for the saffron party to reign in these vigilantes or face the heat in the upcoming UP elections and other states.
PM’s late but vigilant move
Prime Minister Narendra Modi lashed out at self-styled cow protectors recently condemning “fake” vigilantes who he indicated wanted tension in the name of “cow protection”. He said people should be beware of “fake” cow protectors and asked state governments to take action against such elements. “Some people want ‘tanaav’ (tension) in the society in the name of cow protection,” he said. Modi said India is a country full of diversities, different values and traditions and protecting its “unity and integrity is our prime responsibility”. The fake gau rakshakhs have nothing to do with cows. They want to create tension in society,” he said.
The strong remarks came after a string of attacks against Muslims and Dalits across India on the suspicion of slaughtering cows or eating beef. Later, cracking the whip on cow vigilantism, the Centre asked all states not to tolerate anyone taking law into their hands in the name of protecting cow and take prompt action against such offenders.
The Home Ministry advisory came after the Prime Minister Narendra Modi denounced cow vigilantes and asked people to beware of its ‘fake’ protectors trying to divide society and the country and asked the states to severely punish them. The advisory said : “Recently, some incidents have been reported where certain persons or groups have taken law into their hands in the name of protecting cows and have committed crimes in pursuance thereof. This is not an acceptable situation.
“The states are, therefore, enjoined upon, and expected to ensure that any person who takes law into his/ her own hands is dealt with prompt, and punished as per law. There should be no tolerance at all for such persons and full majesty of law must come to bear on them, without exception,”.
The present moment in the country’s history is pregnant with tremendous possibilities and demands a creative, energetic and strategic intervention from the government, which it is taking albeit tad slowly. The BJP-led government has to rein in its foot soldiers or cow vigilantes, otherwise the rising anger of the Dalits will cost it an important state.
by Nilabh Krishna