Beef ban and the deprivation of livelihoods

Nitin Basrur

The evil practice of subjugation and domination of humans by their fellow humans is not new. It has flourished over many centuries, across the world. Various methods are used to discriminate against, and subjugate people — ranging from the class system visible worldwide, to the deplorable caste system (combined with the class system) that is peculiar to the Indian subcontinent. In the recent past, India’s ruling party – the BJP, has carried the despicable practice to a dangerous level, by putting restrictions on people’s choice of food. The ban on slaughter of cows and their progeny (male and female), and the possession and consumption of beef, is being enforced with diabolical wickedness across the country. And, it is being done blatantly, by invoking Hindu religious sentiments, and calling for protection of the ‘Holy Cow’ and her progeny, which are considered sacred by most Hindus.

Beef is a cheaper, protein-rich source of food for those who cannot afford the more expensive foods like goat meat, bird meat, and sea food. The ancient inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent were known to be eating beef even during the Vedic Period. Beef is regularly consumed by Muslims, Christians, Dalits, OBCs, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and other communities across the country, including groups in the North East. In Kerala, 60% of the population (including Muslims, Christians, and Hindus) relishes beef. In West Bengal, over a hundred tonnes of beef is consumed daily. The BJP-ruled state of Goa consumes about forty tonnes of beef daily; which is a glaring irony, as the BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Haryana have enforced a ban on the possession and consumption of beef.

During the Constituent Assembly Debates of 1946-49 that were held for drafting and framing the Constitution of India, the rightwing Hindu fanatic members in the Assembly used pressure tactics to force the incorporation of a ban on cow-slaughter in the Constitution, by browbeating and cajoling their moderate fellow-members. To put pressure on Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, false rumors were spread to portray him as a beef-eater. Religious sentiments and emotions were openly brought into play by the proponents of Hindutva, to prevail over the moderate members in the Assembly. It became quite clear that the demand for a ban on cow-slaughter was a clever ploy to stealthily introduce the Brahminical order of domination by upper-castes, promote the Hindutva agenda, and, dilute the secular aspects of India’s Constitution. Though Dr Ambedkar made an attempt to re-draft and dilute the proposed wording of Article 48, the pressure from the Hindutva fanatics was overwhelming. Finally, he worked out a compromise for the inclusion of a ban on cow-slaughter in the ‘Directive Principles’, rather than in the text of the Constitution.

And thus, Article 48 in the ‘Directive Principles’ was written under the innocuous title, “Organization of agriculture and animal husbandry”. The relevant portion reads as follows, “The State shall endeavor to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.” Note that, Article 48 does not call for a ban on slaughter of cattle that have ceased to be of use as milch and draught cattle.  Also, though the real reasons and motivations behind Article 48 were clearly political and religious in nature, this fact has not been mentioned at all. Instead, the provision for prohibition of cow-slaughter was inserted and rationalized by couching it in economic terms.

Still not satisfied, various cow-protection groups continued to pressure the central government over several years, demanding a nationwide ban on cattle-slaughter. In November 1966, they staged a massive protest before Parliament, and clashed with the police, resulting in the deaths of 10 persons. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sacked Home Minister Gulzarilal Nanda, who subsequently crossed over to the anti-cow-slaughter camp.

Sadly, over a period of 47 years, even the Supreme Court of India changed its stand, apparently, in keeping with the fascist times that we are living in. Earlier, in 1958, in a case concerning the constitutionality of cow-slaughter in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh, the apex court had ruled that, keeping “useless cattle” alive would be a “wasteful drain” on the nation’s cattle feed, and, if slaughtered, the beef would serve as food for the poor. However, in 2005, in a similar case, concerning the constitutionality of cow-slaughter in Gujarat, the court disregarded its own earlier judgment, and ruled in favor of a total ban on the slaughter of cows and their progeny, regardless of whether the animal is useless or useful.

It is unfortunate that the law banning the slaughter of cattle has provided Hindu rightwing extremists with a convenient weapon to attack innocent people, and even murder them, by spreading rumors accusing them of possessing, or eating beef, especially if they happen to be Muslim. In the recent past, there have been incidents of lynching of innocent citizens on the mere suspicion that they were stocking beef, or smuggling cattle into neighboring states. Attacks on Muslim citizens (and Christian churches too) have increased after India’s Hindu rightwing party – the BJP, was elected to power at the centre in May 2014, with the Hindutva icon Narendra Modi appointed as the Prime Minister of India.

In March 2015, even the President of India Pranab Mukherjee chose to swim with the Hindutva current, by giving his assent to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 1995, which his predecessors had wisely kept pending for 19 years. According to the amended law in Maharashtra, anyone found to be selling beef, or in possession of it, can be jailed for five years, and fined Rs 10,000. (In Haryana, the jail term is ten years). Obviously, these draconian laws have been enacted with the purpose of harassing and subjugating India’s beef-eating populations.

Not to be outdone, some Jain community leaders too have been stirring the communal cauldron, along with the ruling BJP in Maharashtra. In September 2015, a ban was imposed on the eating of chicken, buffalo and goat meat in Mumbai and the Mira-Bhayander municipal corporations. This was done by citing a Supreme Court judgment of 2008, that granted municipal corporations the power to impose a ban on meat slaughter during the Jain festival of Paryushan, (applicable to localities with a large Jain population). But surprisingly, no such ban was imposed on the consumption of fish and other seafood.

To make matters worse, the beef-ban has resulted in galloping inflation, with prices of other meats, eggs, pulses, and even vegetables, soaring across the country. This has affected even vegetarians. The booming export of carabeef (buffalo meat) continues to enrich the wealthy meat exporters in India. But there is no relief for the country’s poor and middle-classes, who are forced to pay higher and higher prices for their daily food.

India’s poor farmers too have been severely hit. The country has about 80 million old and unproductive cattle. Earlier, a farmer could sell such cattle for about Rs 25,000 per animal. But now, with the more stringent laws banning cow-slaughter, the farmer is unable to sell his cattle, as there are no buyers. The added burden of maintaining such cattle (about Rs 100 per day) is too heavy on the poor farmer, who is left with no choice, but to abandon them.  Already over five million stray cattle have been abandoned by their owners. Reportedly, the beef-ban has led to increase in cattle-smuggling, and, spurred a huge underground business, giving rise to about 30,000 illegal and unlicensed abattoirs across India.

The multiple misfortunes of bad weather, crop damage and insufficient agricultural incomes have forced farmers to commit suicide across India, and especially in Maharashtra, at a shocking rate. During the last 21 years (since 1995), more than 300,000 farmers have committed suicide across India, of which Maharashtra alone accounts for about 62,000 deaths. During the period 2004-15, the average of such deaths in Maharashtra was about 10 farmer suicides per day. The Maharashtra government’s decision to ban beef has affected nearly two million people (majority of them are non-muslims) whose livelihood depends on the business of cattle-slaughter and related products. Mumbai alone has lost business worth Rs 500 million daily.

In the domestic hide industry, the ban on cattle-slaughter has affected the livelihoods of an estimated 2.5 million poor people across India – mostly Scheduled Castes and Dalits. To add insult to injury, the government has allowed the import of cow/bull hide with zero per cent duty. Who are the ultimate beneficiaries of such motivated decisions? It also makes one wonder about the judiciary’s motivations in pronouncing judgments that unduly favor the rightwing BJP / Hindutva fascists.

The laws banning the slaughter of cattle vary from state to state across India. Of India’s 29 states, 24 have imposed restrictions and penalties of varying degrees, on the slaughter of cows and other bovine cattle. Obviously, the cows and bulls would be transported, (legally or illegally), to another state (or to a neighboring country) for slaughter, and export of beef. The beef ban is designed to further enrich the already wealthy beef exporters, while depriving millions of poor beef-eaters across India. The majority of meat exporters and owners of modern abattoirs are non-Muslims, some even operating under different company-names in different countries. As also, those in the business of dealing in related materials like bone, leather, horn, animal blood, offal, and other raw materials. The blood, offal, bones and tallow are used in making chemicals, medicines and soaps.

The key-accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots – BJP’s MLA Sangeet Singh Som, who once led the frenzied anti-beef protests, is himself the founder of one of India’s leading halal meat export companies – Al-Dua Food Processing Private Ltd. He is also an additional director in Al-Anam Agro Foods Pvt. Ltd. Some other prominent names in the business are: Arabian Export, of Deepak Tijori, Al Kabeer Exports, run by Atul Subberwal, Al-Noor Export, of Ajay Sud, Mahesh Jagadale and Co, Sujata Bones, of MK Deore, Dode Industries, Fine Exports, SK Leather, Ramesh Juneja & Sons, Bharat Leather, Woodland, Raymonds, Datta Soap, BS International, Sixth Sense, Natural Craft, Bounty Fashion Export, Kochhar Brothers, Ravi Exports, Kalia International, and Hindustan Unilever Ltd. – all engaged in beef and the business of associated raw materials and products. Some of those associated with the trade have different names and identities for different countries and regions. Like, Al Kabeer is ‘Samurai’ in Japan, ‘Falcon Foods’ in the UK, and ‘Tayebat Al Emarat’ in the UAE. It also owns other brands like Tabarruk, Cascade and Coral Reef.

The ban on cow-slaughter and eating of beef amounts to a slow, creeping form of genocide inflicted upon the poor people of India, by causing malnutrition, debilitation, and their attendant ills. The ban violates Article 21 of our Constitution that guarantees two rights – the Right to Life; and, the Right to Personal Liberty. It is high time the Government of India took urgent steps to lift the ban on cow-slaughter.