Beef, Hinduism & Cow Protection

By Prabhakar Timble
08 July 2017 06:33 IST

In Hinduism, it’s a belief dating from Vedic period that links the cow with certain deities. Oxen and bulls were sacrificed and their flesh consumed in ancient India. At the same time, the slaughter of milk-producing cows was prohibited.  Hindus hold the cow with sacredness. The products of the cow--- milk, curd, butter, urine and dung are used in religious rites and purification. With the initiation of the Hindutva creed, a ban on cow slaughter got echoed in the Constituent Assembly Debates. There was no mass response to the blanket ban. A scientific and economic approach was evolved considering the implications of Article 19 (Freedom to conduct business and right to trade); Article 25 (Freedom of religion) and Article 48 (Scientific organization of agriculture & animal husbandry) which formed the basis of State laws aimed at animal preservation and restrictions on cow-slaughter. However, with the building up of the cow sentiment intermixing it with religious beliefs and spraying a coat of Hindu nationalism by the RSS, BJP and the fringe organizations, the question of slaughtering of cattle in today’s India is largely a political issue fanning emotions, jingoism and hatred towards bovine flesh traders and  beef consumers.

Unpalatable historical truths

 It is not true that Muslim rulers introduced beef eating in India. It is also not factual that beef was largely consumed only in the Western part of the world. Vedic literature reveals that for religious sacrifice and food, bovine animals were killed. There are references to beef eating in funeral ceremonies also. It was a practice during ancient period to kill a bull or sterile cow on the wedding day, sacrifice a black cow when a new house is constructed and a bull at the annual oblations in honour of the dead. The renowned historian R. C. Majumdar documents “In the daily fare of the Vedic household, the use of animal food was common, especially at great feasts and family gatherings. The slaying of cow was however gradually looked upon with disfavor”. He further adds “Hunting was popular. The animals hunted were the lion, the elephant, the wild boar, the buffalo and the deer. Birds also were hunted”.

Of course, there were riders to this practice. Cow was also considered as an animal “not to be killed”. Milch animals were not sacrificed. In Kautilya’s Arthasastra, bulls are intended for slaughter-house but killing of milch cows and calves though permitted for sacrificial purposes is forbidden for butchers’ stalls. The later trends of giving up beef meat were gradually settling down. In today’s Hindutva din and noise, the historical facts would be unpalatable. Cattle were the major property and wealth in those times. The historical reality is not to make a case for repetition of history. At the same time, today we have many communities in India consuming beef. Non-resident Hindu Indians and overseas citizens appreciate cattle meat. Hindus of the lower castes are dependent on beef as a cheap meat. Prohibition on beef-eating is neither Hindu identity corroborated by historical sources nor hall mark of Indian nationalism as claimed by right-wing forces whose primary agenda is to attack pluralism of all forms. For a majority of Hindus, beef eating is unthinkable. For the Jains, non-vegetarianism is unclean. So be it. There is no harm as long as the issue is not brought on public streets.

Reasonable restrictions to coercion

Restrictions on slaughter of animals have existed in the past and in post-independent India, most of the States have passed the Animal Preservation Acts and put in place the regulatory mechanisms in respect of cow slaughter. The ban on slaughter of scheduled animals is imposed where it is economical for agricultural operations, breeding and giving milk. The cow slaughter position is clear in India and there has been no major issue with beef trade or beef consumption of a national magnitude as it is seen today. The cow and animals have been revered in this country since ancient times. The attempt of the Hindutva brigade now is to put the cow on the pedestal of the Creator. The BJP government at the Centre and in the States is giving a shot in the arm to the fundamentalists with the notification supposedly to regulate cow-slaughter but in a way crushes beef trade and effectively works to ban beef consumption. The lukewarm approach of the government in dealing with lynching instances and criminal trespass into households by non-state actors is an indicator of State implicit connivance.

The built up to the negative beef emergency of today got a boost from 1980s. Beef ban today is no longer an agenda of religious faith and belief. It is an agenda to polarize and divide communities along with curbing the freedoms of citizens guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. A law passed by the state of Madhya Pradesh makes the slaughter of cows, storage of beef and transportation for slaughtering an offence inviting seven years in jail. The law has challenged the traditional maxim of criminal jurisprudence by putting the burden on the accused to prove the innocence rather than on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused. The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill of 1995 which prevented the slaughter of bulls got the assent of the President in 2014.

Article 48 of the Indian Constitution enjoins upon the State to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and in particular take steps for preserving and improving the breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle. There were voices in the Constituent Assembly for the prohibition on cow slaughter to be included under fundamental rights. Seth Govind Das argued to impose blanket ban on slaughtering to respect Hindu religion. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar opposed any ban on religious grounds. There were fears that Article 48 would be misused for religious motives. Hence, this provision is rooted in economic justification specifically with mention that cow which is source of milk production, thus leaving out other cattle, oxen and buffalo.  The debate recognized that complete ban on cow slaughter would violate the right to trade and Article 19(1)(g) and will have crushing effect on those employed in the beef industry. It is estimated that around 22 lakh people are engaged in the meat industry.

On the issue whether beef ban compromises the secular fabric of the country, there is no total clarity. Most States have legislations prohibiting cattle slaughter on economic grounds and within the ambit of Article 48. Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Lakshadweep have so far not imposed any restrictions on cow slaughter.

Courts have held that banning cow slaughter of only those cattle with economic utility is a reasonable restriction and complete ban on bovines is unconstitutional. Courts have also upheld orders of closing down of slaughter houses for seven days in a year which were religiously important for the Hindus. There is an amazing judgement upholding a complete ban on sale of meat and eggs in Rishikesh. An order (State of Gujarat v/s Mirzapur Kassab: 2005) which upholds blanket ban taking assistance of fundamental duty under Article 51(A)(g) which speaks of showing compassion to animals is annoying as fundamental duties cannot override fundamental rights.

Sloppy cow protection

A beef ban as it is clandestinely promoted today will go against the desired objective of cow protection. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in his address at the Madras Veterinary College (1955) had stated that we need to get hold of the question of cow protection from a positive and constructive viewpoint and not sentimental or religious point of view. Dismayed that the cow is treated worse in India than in any other country, though revered and worshipped, he hinted “It is an odd thing that in this country of India, where cattle are so highly thought of, they should be in such a bad way”. He warned that mad sentiment will harm cattle population and that bad and discarded cattle will increase and good cattle die off. It is today not uncommon to see calves and cows starving and chronically undernourished and many are left on public streets and highways to fend for themselves.

To solve the problem of cattle we have to think of scientific cattle –breeding, cattle-rearing, improvement in stock, humane treatment of bullocks and formation of model dairies etc. Attacking beef traders and consumers is no positive cow protection. Mahatma Gandhi went a step further when he said “Cow protection means protection of the weak, the helpless, the dumb and the deaf”.  The politics over the cow held sacred by Hindus would finally ruin the cattle population and also the peace and freedom of the people.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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Previous Comments

Prabhakar, it is only recently that I have started reading blogs in Wasn't aware of it's existence before. Must say the site gets updated at a snail's pace.

Be that as it may, what discomforts me is the amount of hatred you guys disseminate in the name of intellectualism. I m yet to be enlightened on the brighter aspects of our nation. 125 crores, gross indiscipline, glaring ineptitude, decades of 'chalta hai' attitude, massive unemployment, contagious corruption, and yet we see a India which is bubbling, stock markets rising, infrastructure improving, borders strengthening. But not a word of positivity from you guys. Even Arjun would be put to shame with the intensity shown by you to see only & only the dark side of India. When one considers the insignificance of the numbers affected by the so-called beef politics, it's glorification by you becomes even more stark. Which is not to mean that isolated incidents need to be overlooked or sidestepped. But the hysterical selectivity shown by your ilk confirms your bias.

I m not quite sure about the viewership status of these blogs. The relative paucity of comments betrays the lack of popular interest. Not to mention whether the few who do read you take your word seriously? Before even you stop taking yourself seriously ........... pause, ponder, & proceed, but on a different route. Where the journey is led by love, and not by law.

- Vivek G. Prabhudesai, Ponda Goa | 12 th July 2017 04:19


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