March 15, 2015



With President Pranab Mukherjee giving his consent to the 'controversial' amendments to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act (MAPA) earlier this month, 19 years since the Manohar Joshi led Shiv Sena - BJP introduced it way back in 1995, the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and calves has been completely banned in the western state. Though most of us may not know it, the slaughter of cows in the Maharashtra was already banned when the MAPA was first introduced in 1976. While the BJP had mentioned this point in its manifesto during last year's state elections, the move is seen by many as a continuation of the party's 'soft-core' Hindutva agenda which it has been running, reportedly under the directions from its ideological partners in the Sangh Parivar. In fact, as per reports appearing in many newspapers, the saffron regime in Haryana under Manohar Lal Khattar is keen on introducing a similar legislation in the state assembly with some even indicating that slaughter of cows in the state would be equated to 'homicide'.

Though most Indian states have certain restrictions on the slaughter of cattle, the Fadnavis regime's move has reignited the entire debate on this rather emotive issue. After all, this is a nation where millions hold the cow in such high esteem. While India may be a predominantly Hindu nation, we cannot ignore the fact that we are still a home to about 18 crore Muslims and Christians, many of whom like eating beef. Besides, a sizable chunk of Hindus too have acquired a taste for cattle meat. By banning beef altogether, aren't we infringing on people's right to eat what they wish to. Isn't that an invasion of a citizen's private space and in many ways, in violation to the democratic values enshrined in our constitution?

Of course, they will be many who will make some frivolous arguments - If you can kill and eat cow or bull, why not lions, tigers, leopards and elephants? Why have special laws to protect them? What these people fail to realize is that tigers and elephants are endangered species whose numbers have fallen below permissible levels. Killing even a single animal belonging to such endangered species can be detrimental to their survival and directly alter the ecological balance in that areas that they inhabit. However, the cow is not a rare animal as yet and killing some of them will, in no way, affect their numbers.

There are many who think that non-Hindus should voluntarily give up eating beef just because the majority looks upon or is supposed to look upon the cow as the embodiment of their pantheon comprising of 33 crore Gods. Anyway, even this line of thought is in violation to the core ideals of Hinduism. The religion of the Vedas, as I understand it, emphasizes on respecting diverse range of opinion on all matters and not intruding in people's personal lives, let alone dictating what food they must eat. By enforcing Hindu ideas on non-believers, we are destroying the very tenets that our religion is based upon including mutual co-existence. By this we are doing more damage than people will do by killing cattle.

Though Hindus may have special regards for cows, the underlying principles of the Vedic faith states that God resides in all living beings, be it humans, animals or plants and we should refrain from causing any kind of harm to them. By this, the Creator also resides in chicken, pork and fish, all of which are consumed in many Indian households irrespective of the religion they follow. Hence, banning beef alone will not help or serve any purpose from the religious angle.

Possibly, the people who will be affected most by this move are the ones that earn their livelihood out of slaughtering cattle. As per some estimates, there are about 10 lakh people in India who work in this industry. Besides consumption, a large number of cattle are actually killed to provide raw materials for the leather industry. There has been no talk of how such a these people will either be compensated or rehabilitated. By banning cow slaughter, we are only adding to the problem of unemployment in the country at a time when jobs, both in public and private sector are drying up. Seriously, that is the last thing we need.

So the bottom line is clear; though we know that cattle slaughter may affect a large number of Hindus, the government ought to take the larger picture into consideration and work towards better  and more important things than indulging in petty vote bank politics.