by Tahsin Mohammed
If one is to rephrase Evelyn Beatrice’s quote on free speech apropos right over choice of food, it would go as – “I don’t approve with what you eat but I will defend to the death your right to eat.”
The Centre’s recent move to ban the sale and purchase of cattle in livestock markets throughout the country under the Prevention to Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules 2017 speaks of a policy in haste lacking serious introspection and foresight into the economic upshots of the ban that has resulted in a great degree of disharmony – in trade, culture and livelihood of millions of people.
The ruling, in a way appears a final push towards imposing an absolute ban across the country in the long-run, and a unilateral decision that infringes upon a State’s prerogative to formulate laws vis-à-vis the cattle slaughter. With an exception to Kerala, West Bengal and a majority of Northeastern states where cow slaughter stands as legal, the remaining have stern laws with a blanket ban on cow slaughter, though not extending over the entire cattle category. However, the new rules notified under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960 aimed at regulating the animal markets goes a step further to include bulls, buffaloes, steers, camels in addition to the cow in the cattle list.
The PCA Act
The Centre’s overnight notification calling for a nation-wide ban on sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter throughout country contravenes the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960 under which it has been notified. In fact, the PCA does not impose restrictions on the sale of cattle for reasons of slaughter or sacrifices. What the Act mandates under Part 9 is ‘to advise the Government or any local authority or other person in the design of slaughter-houses or the maintenance of slaughter houses or in connection with slaughter of animals so that unnecessary pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is eliminated in the pre-slaughter stages as far as possible, and animals are killed; wherever necessary, in as humane a manner as possible. More, the Act under Chapter V1, Part 28 states that “nothing contained in this Act shall render it an offence to kill any animal in a manner required by the religion of any community.”
The Act explicitly validates slaughter of animals for food under Chapter III, Part 11 (e) that recognizes ‘the preparation for destruction of any animal as food for mankind unless such destruction or preparation was accompanied by the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering.” The Centre has either overlooked the Act or has misread it in a hurry to pass such a ruling.
Cattle Politics Meltdown
The ruling percolates down heavily on the farmers, traders and millions engaged in the livestock industry. The ruling is not reclusive but part of an aggressive and pungent cow politics that has swamped the nation with a string of gruesome incidents while injecting a new discourse throughout the country’s socio-cultural and political framework. A dystopian culture upsetting the socio-economic harmony is in the offing.
Socially it disturbs the mutual-coherence among the communities’ sharing diverse dietary values and traditions by creating a rift on lines that are religio-cultural in nature leading to a deeper schism of mistrust and inclusiveness among people. Several incidents over the past two years involving assault and lynching of people to death on mere suspension of possessing beef or trading cattle for slaughter by self-appointed cow vigilantes has only added to the bitterness making peace among communities fragile and utopian.
Economically it trickles down greatly on farmers, who are supposed prove their credentials as agriculturalists and provide an undertaking that they would not sell the cattle for slaughter but for the purpose of farming. The question that arises is, what would a farmer do with the cattle that have outlived its usefulness? It only adds to farmer’s miseries and debt with no buyers in market. The trading community, on whom the livelihood of millions rests upon, is faced with a bleak future. For instance, the meats shops faced a crackdown in Utter Pradesh following closure of slaughter houses on grounds of not possessing the required licenses, with the meat retailers alleging lack of accountability on part of the municipality and the government to provide them with legal abattoirs and required licenses. The leather industry is bound to be hit hard by the notification, which uses cattle hides extensively as part of its trade and exports of finished leather that runs into tones. Meat traders allege that the new rules threaten the annual buffalo meat exports and millions of jobs in the meat industry if they are not reversed.
Consumption and Exports Pattern
The consumer expenditure survey 2011-12 conducted by the NSSO under beef/buffalo category showed that more than 80 million people consume beef or buffalo meat throughout the country. Although the Muslim community stands to be largest consumer of beef/buffalo meat, Hindus stands second in absolute terms with more than 12.5 million Hindus consuming it. Meghalaya tops the table as the largest beef/buffalo consuming state. When it comes to exports, Indian currently accounts for 20% of the world’s total buffalo meat and beef export volume, and stands as the largest exporter by quantity overtaking Brazil and Australia in 2015-16, as per ICRA report. It further predicted a surge in the earnings through buffalo meat exports in next five years touching to the tune of Rs.40,000 Cr from Rs.26,682 Cr in 2015-16. The U.S Dept. of Agriculture holds India as the largest exporter of beef notwithstanding the controversy surrounding the cattle trade and a slew of bans in place to the effect.
Cycle of Violence and Despondency
A culture of violence has been unleashed across the country in the name of cow protection by self-appointed cow vigilante groups, which on most occasions involves elements form the extreme-Hindu right groups and Sena’s, which no longer constitutes the fringe but have become the center. The disturbing aspect of it is the victims of their violence are being treated as suspects in the violence against themselves. The latest being the assault on railway staff of Kochuveli-Guwahati Express in Bhubaneswar over suspension of cattle smuggling, and one on a student from IIT-Madras for participating in a beef fest organised to protest against Center’s unilateral cattle ban ruling. The cattle-related violence is not new, but has gained momentum over the past two years, from the horrific mob violence against Mohammed Akhlaq and his family in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri in 2015 to the lynching of Dalits in Gujarat’s Unna in 2016 to the gruesome murder of a 55-year old Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan’s Alwar, a dairy farmer from Haryana by self-appointed Gaurkashaks in April-2107. The bone-chilling assaults and brutal killings in guise of cattle/cow protection have only grown louder in measure given the glorification of assaulters and persecution of the victims by the State machinery and authorities who look the other way. This is the case across several States in the country, particularly in the BJP-ruled ones – where the administration and authorities willfully look the other way emboldened by the vilifying statements of those wielding power. What is worrisome is the indifference if not the connivance of the government and the cynical apathy of the civil society in addressing the growing insecurities and despondency of the victims, and the people at large.
The Way Forward
The Allahabad High Court’s recent observation about ‘choice of food and trade in foodstuff being part of right to life’ needs to be ensured and safeguarded as guaranteed under – Art 21 and 19 (1) (g) of the Fundamental Rights in the Indian Constitution that stands supreme. The States needs to tread the constitutional path given the onus of guarding its citizens’ life, property and their right to livelihood.
The States needs to devise and formulate stern laws in dealing with the self-appointed Gaurakshaks as called by the Prime Minister in August, 2016 who had described them as ‘anti-socials’ at night, who otherwise if left unchecked will prove a dire threat to State’s law and order and societal harmony.
We ought to be a society free of fear with peaceful coexistence, as Tagore aptly calls it out in his rhyme –
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the World has not broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls….
Tahsin Mohammed is a student of journalism at Manasagangotri, University of Mysore.