by Irfan Engineer
In the previous articles we saw that the campaign by the Hindu nationalist organizations for cow protection is merely instrumental to achieve their political objective, establish cultural hegemony of the upper caste and declare the hierarchical and feudal culture privileging the upper caste as the national culture. The amendments passed by the Maharashtra Assembly in 1995 to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976, and which received Presidential assent in 2015 (hereafter referred to as “the 2015 Act”), too are not to protect the cow and its progeny despite the stated objectives couched language of scientific organization of agriculture and animal husbandry. The political objective of the 2015 Act is instrumental – to impose the hegemony of upper caste culture and empower extremist, anarchic and fringe Hindu nationalist groups to intimidate the marginalized sections, in particular, the Muslims on one hand, and to construct a hegemonic and authoritarian culture monitoring state.
While the 1976 Animal preservation Act, as amended in 1988 prohibited only cow (including male and female calves) slaughter, with Section 4 providing, “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force or any usage or custom to the contrary, no person shall slaughter cause to be slaughtered or offer for slaughter any cow, in any place in the State of Maharashtra” and provided for punishment which may extend to six months with or without fine upto Rs.1,000/-. The other provisions of the 1976 Act provided for regulation of slaughter of scheduled animal by appointing competent authority.
The 2015 Act transforms a democratic constitutional state into an authoritarian cultural state with immense powers and a machinery to peep into the kitchens, refrigerator and dining tables of the citizens of the country. To include bulls and bullocks along with the cow in the animals that cannot be slaughtered is only a side objective. What has been missed is that the 2015 Act is as draconian as say the UAPA or TADA or POTA and the recent GujCOCA. The 2015 Act will encourage the vigilante actions of the fringe and mainstream Hindu nationalist organizations in stopping vehicles transporting cattle (not necessarily for slaughter), wherein either the owner/deliverer/seller of the cattle or receiver/buyer of the consignment of the cattle or the driver or the owner of the vehicle is a Muslim. The vigilante group, mostly consisting of 4-6 men, then pull out the driver if he is a Muslim, demand the documents, tear them into pieces, loot the cattle (even if not cow or progeny), beat up the Muslim driver, call the police, get a false case registered and the vehicle confiscated and finally get the media to cover that Muslims were taking cow to slaughter house. This writer was told about such cases in Gujarat, Rajasthan, MP and Maharashtra by the victims of the vigilante action. The vigilante action increases around Eid-uz-Zuha (bakri Eid). That is how media regularly “reports” which feeds into the stereo-typical relation between Muslims and cow slaughter. The 2015 Act will encourage this vigilantism.
The state and the holy cow:
The state relies on Article 48 of the Constitution of India in support of the 2015 Act. Article 48 is in Part IV of Constitution which is on Directive Principles of State Policy and non-justiciable. Art. 48 states – “The State shall endeavour to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.” The state submitted to the Bombay High Court that it brought in the 2015 Act to protect the cow and its progeny due to their many benefits like milk, dung and urine in making pest repellents and medicinal products. (Thomas, 2015) However, despite the claim of the state, there are no credible studies and research to back its claim. As far as use of bullock as draught animal is concerned, and milk and dung are cited as useful product, then, on that ground slaughter of most mammals should be banned, including buffaloes, goats, horses, camels, etc. Reliance is placed on ancient Vedic texts. Even the Report of the National Commission on Cattle heavily quotes from Vedic texts and Smrities to “prove” that cow is a useful animal (Justice Lodha, 2015)! It is very difficult, if not impossible, to justify ban cow slaughter without bringing in religious traditions followed by the upper-caste elite.
If the only objective of the 2015 Act is to preserve the cattle wealth of Maharashtra for its milk, dung and urine products, and utility of bullocks as a draught animal, why penalize even possession of meat of cow and progeny imported from outside the state (Sec. 5D)? Surely importing meat from outside Maharashtra does not deplete the cattle wealth or the milk, dung and urine within Maharashtra! On the other hand, why the export of cow and its progeny outside Maharashtra should be permitted for all other purposes except for slaughter (sec. 5A)? Whether the cow and its progeny are exported for slaughter or for any other purpose, Maharashtra would lose its cattle wealth along with its milk, dung and urine.
The objective of the 2015 Act goes beyond preservation of cow, its progeny and the milk, dung and urine. The real objective of the 2015 Act is to become an instrument of oppression in the hands of police and the executive objective. Consider some of provisions of the Act, e.g., sections 5A, 5B, and 5C of the 2015 Act which outlaws transportation of cow and progeny for purpose of slaughter, trading cow and progeny for the purpose of slaughter and being in possession of flesh of cow, bull or bullock. After outlawing the aforesaid activities, the 2015 Act authorizes any police officer not below the rank of sub-inspector, or any person authorized in this behalf by the State Government to enter, stop and search or authorize any person to enter, stop and search any vehicle used or even intended to be used for the export of cow and progeny; seize or authorize seizure of cow and progeny in respect of which it is suspected that they are in contravention of Sec. 5A, 5B or 5C; and in order to effect search and seizure operations, can even break open any premises as per Sec. 100 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The vigilante groups functioning illegally but with impunity could now be legally authorized by a compliant police officer. As the police officer can effect seizure or authorize seizure of even those cows and progeny which were intended to be sold or purchased or transported for slaughter. The allegation of “intention” can be freely made but is difficult to defend.
The quantum of punishment for contravention of the provisions has also been increased 10 times – from six months to five years, with a minimum punishment of six months and fine has been increased by ten times too – from one thousand to ten thousand with minimum fine to be rupees one thousand. The maximum punishment in the law before amendment would now be the minimum punishment. If you are in possession of small quantity of narcotic or psychotropic drugs, the chances are that you may be send to a rehabilitation centre and let off. However, if you are in possession of flesh of cow or progeny, chances are that you may be sentenced to a jail term upto one year! To be in possession of flesh of cow and progeny is no less serious offence than being in possession of contraband drugs, and perhaps more serious! The Hindu Nationalist vigilante groups are less concerned about Hindus getting addicted to drugs and concerned more with citizens of Maharashtra being in possession of flesh of cow and progeny. Their flesh would now be considered contraband substance! The offence is non-bailable.
The most draconian provision of the Act is that the burden of proving that the slaughter, transport, export outside the State, sale, purchase or possession of flesh of cow, bull or bullock was not in contravention of the provisions of the 2015Act, would be on the accused! In Indian criminal jurisprudence, the accused is always presumed to be innocent till proved guilty. The exception to this rule is only in very serious offences and under special laws or exceptional circumstances, e.g. in UAPA or in counter-terrorism legislations. Even in cases of murder or defending oneself against the charge of sedition, there would be presumption of innocence and it would be for the prosecution to prove the guilt. How would an accused from very poor background and who is accused of slaughtering, transporting, exporting out of state or selling or purchasing or possessing flesh of cow and progeny prove his/her innocence? The state or vigilantes so authorized can break open your house, enter your kitchen, dining table (or floor in most cases) peep inside your refrigerator and seize “contraband” substance – flesh/meat and put you behind bars and for the prime of the accused life s/he would be fighting from within the prison walls to prove her/his innocence! The draconian legislation is a powerful tool in the hands of vigilante groups and state to target any individual, group or community.
As soon as the 2015 Act came into force, Hindu nationalist vigilante groups became even more active. The vigilante groups having little respect for rule of law and the Constitution of India, immediately tested the law by launching complaints targeting Muslims in Malegaon, a Muslim majority town in North Maharashtra. Police acted upon the complaint and arrested the accused. Malegaon police told Tabassum Barnagarwala (2015) (Cows Say Cheese) “After the ban came into force, Hindu groups were after us to investigate Muslim households… Also, people may try to settle their personal battles by registering false complaints. A Hindu can come and say that a Muslim is keeping cows for slaughter. What do we do in such a case?” Malegaon police directed the Muslims of the town who kept cows as their pets to register their animals with a photograph of the owner and all the cows. The police started maintaining an additional register titled – Gaay, Bail, Bachhara (cow, bull and calf) Register. The police in Malegaon are busy carrying out a census of Muslims possessing cows and monitoring trade and movement. Hindus owning cows are not required to register as the presumption is the only Muslim sell cows and progeny for slaughter – Hindus do not!
Police in Maharashtra despite their extremely limited numbers and challenging task of fighting anti-dalit violence, terrorism, drug proliferation, land mafia, increasing sexual assaults on women, domestic violence, communal violence, and other organized crimes, will be busy securing the ministers, Hindu nationalist instigators and the cows. The victims of the 2015 Act, we are given to understand, would be primarily Muslims. The victims of the 2015 Act is foremost our criminal jurisprudence, democracy, and our Constitutional values. The 2015 Act in the hands of police and vigilante groups can become instrument of oppression of not only Muslims, but also dalits and other marginalized sections of society. Dalits will not only be affected as they will lose their cheap source of proteins or suffer economically as they are involved in manufacturing of leather goods. Police or vigilante groups may enter any house having meat of lamb or any other animal or in a shop of meat vendor, seize the flesh and produce the person before court. Then it would be on the accused to prove her/his innocence. Let us watch whether the police use the 2015 Act to renegotiate their hafta!
Secular movement has also opposed the 2015 Act on the terrain of defending the rights of minorities, particularly Muslims. The 2015 Act is more than that. The state ruled by followers of Hindutva ideology are today prescribing and monitoring the food we eat. What next? Prescribing and monitoring clothes we wear? Films we see? Performing and fine arts we are allowed to watch? Occupation we are allowed to be in? Areas we can inhabit and reside in? Muslims are being targeted initially so that opposition comes primarily from Muslims and not from larger society. Every citizen of India who has a stake in democracy should see herself as a potential victim and stand up to resist.
Barnagarwala, T. (2015, April 19). Cows Say Cheese. Indian Express , pp. 12-13.