By A.J. Philip
LAST fortnight, former Prime Minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Deve Gowda and a team of his party MPs and MLAs met President Pratibha Patil and requested her not to give assent to the ‘Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2010’, passed by the State Assembly by voice vote. They told the President that the Bill has dangerous implications for the whole farming community and it was an attack on the food habits of a large section of the people, including Dalits, Muslims and Christians.
It is true that the Directive Principles of the Constitution authorise Central and state governments to take steps for the protection of cattle. When the issue was debated in the Constituent Assembly, some members wanted a specific ban on cow slaughter, once and for all. They were also the ones who wanted the primacy of Hinduism spelt out in the Constitution. Jawaharlal Nehru and others of his ilk opposed a total ban but they, eventually, had to make a compromise.
As a result, the Indian state is directed by the Directive Principles of the Constitution to discourage the slaughter of draught and milch cattle. This is not legally binding upon the State but, like all directive principles, the State is meant to enforce this principle over time. But in this particular case, there is now near total ban on cow slaughter in all the states barring the Left-ruled Kerala and West Bengal and some states in the Northeast like Nagaland and Meghalaya.
The southern state, too, was not an exception. The Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964, was in force when the Bill was passed. So what was the need for a new law? The Karnataka Government says the Bill is similar to the one in Gujarat, whose validity was gone into by the Supreme Court. However, there is a fundamental difference between the Gujarat law and the Karnataka Bill. While the relevant Acts in most of the states ban cow slaughter, the Karnataka Government seeks to ban slaughter of all cattle, including male and female buffaloes.
Cow slaughter in India is taboo because of the religious sensibilities of some Hindus who worship the cow and sentimentally see it as an embodiment of nurture, and therefore, as mother: gau mata. But I am yet to come across anyone who worships buffalo, male or female, though it is the vehicle of Yama, the god of death. Needless to say, the Bill will strike hard at the butchers, whose surnames do not include such popular ones as Agarwal, Sharma or Yeddiyurappa.
A large section of the people, whose source of protein is animal meat, will be deprived of it once the Bill gets the Presidential assent. India has the world’s largest bovine population and, yet, it lags behind even smaller European nations likes the Netherlands and Switzerland in the production of milk and manufacture of milk products like cheese and chocolate. The farmers of Karnataka will now be forced to feed and maintain cattle, which have crossed their productive life.
Of course, Chief Minister B.S. Yeddiyurappa says cow’s urine has medicinal properties and cow-dung is good manure. It is a well-known secret that earlier, the farmers could sell the cattle to the traders who would "export" them to Kerala or would secretly slaughter them. By making the punishment for the "crime" stringent and non-bailable, farmers will be forced to "maintain" such cattle. Ultimately, the cattle will have the luxury of starvation.
Even in a city like New Delhi, it is not uncommon to find stray cattle moving on busy roads looking for food. I have seen some "devout Hindus" feeding such cows with their leftover food like "roti". But for sustenance, the cows and bullocks look for food in the dustbin. Even in Delhi, waste is not segregated and put in separate biodegradable and non-biodegradable dustbins as in Europe or St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.
So it won’t be a surprise if used needles and razor blades are found wrapped in rotten cauliflower petals which the cow is forced to eat. Unfortunately, "mother cow" has not been blessed with Yeddiyurappa’s intelligence to distinguish between good food and dangerous stuff. Small wonder that postmortems conducted on cattle have shown their intestines choked with plastic bag.
This is the kind of fate that awaits the cattle in Karnataka once the Bill is cleared. Needless to say, manufacture of leather products like shoes, belt, bags etc will also suffer a setback. If the government is sincere in its profession, it should recall the Bill and include provisions in it under which anybody who is found not feeding properly his cattle will invite stringent punishment. To be fair to the Chief Minister, he has given "rational" and "economic" reasons for the ban — it will increase urine production.
Now, let us see how Yeddiyurappa and Company would have reacted if say, the Indian National Muslim League demanded a ban on sale of liquor in the State. The League would be on as firm a ground as the BJP is on the cow slaughter, for the Directive Principles enjoin Central and state governments to promote prohibition. The party could also point out that in the BJP-ruled Gujarat, prohibition has been in existence for long, though liquor is freely available, at a higher price, in the black market in Gujarat.
There are hundred and one reasons for promoting prohibition, other than the Islamic injunction against the consumption of liquor. Alcohol is bad. Women suffer terribly at the hands of alcoholic husbands. Women in Andhra have fought against alcohol-sellers in the state. Mahatma Gandhi was opposed to it. Millions of people are pauperised because of their addiction to liquor etc.
Barring a microscopic, negligible section of Muslims, the entire minority community would support prohibition. Yet, why is not the BJP in Karnataka ready to introduce prohibition in the state? Of course, it will have some difficulty in explaining its cozy relationship with Vijay Mallya, the liquor magnate, whose United Breweries is operational in several countries, and who was elected to the Rajya Sabha with the BJP’s tacit support.
Or, take another example. During the heydays of the late Sant Bhindranwale, some kind of a ban was imposed on selling tobacco products in some areas in Punjab. Sikhs are opposed to smoking. A Sikh may drink gallons of liquor but if a turbaned Sikh is seen smoking in public, he will know what mob (read Sikh) fury is. All the arguments in support of prohibition can be used to demand a ban on smoking. Smoking forces non-smokers to become passive smokers. So it is more dangerous than drinking.
It is for this very reason that smoking in public places is banned in a city like Chandigarh. There are increasing restrictions on smoking in public places like trains, buses, theatres, cinema halls, restaurants etc. But there is no ban as such on smoking. Those who want to smoke can do so in the privacy of their homes or in dedicated smoking cubicles as in some cinema halls. Health warnings, public education and punitive taxation are the ways in which smoking is discouraged.
Smoking has not been criminalised or driven underground as has happened in Gujarat in the case of drinking. Nowhere in the public campaign is mentioned that Sikhism is opposed to smoking. Yeddiyurappa would surely say that cow slaughter is not comparable to the Muslim distaste for drinking or the Sikh rejection of smoking. After all, cow is a mother for Hindus and that her murder, therefore, is matricide.
Now listen to what Catholics say about abortion. They call it "murder in the womb". By what reckoning do the Yeddiyurappas rank killing adult bovines as more offensive than killing human foetuses in the womb? What kind of a state is that which promotes killing of foetuses and subsidises it in a host of ways and discourages slaughter of even non-productive cattle?
I have seen in Bihar signboards that proclaim "Abortion for Rs 999 only" that reminds one about the Bata shoe prices. Then there is the multinational agency Marie Stopes that advertises its abortion services for those who want the "murders" committed in the privacy of air-conditioned rooms in plush business areas. Why is the Karnataka government not outraged by such activities, particularly when selective abortions have reduced the percentage of female population in the country? Men outnumber women in all states except Kerala.
Muslims consider pig unholy. They can even go to ridiculous extent in their hatred for such products. I recently wrote an article for a newspaper published from an Islamic nation. In the article I mentioned that one of the terrorists who piloted an aircraft that hit the World Trade Centre in New York was not religious as he had bacon and eggs for breakfast that day. The sub-editor thought "bacon" was un-Islamic and substituted it with non-harmful "chicken". In the process, the purpose of my mentioning "bacon" was defeated.
Will the Yeddiyurappas ban piggery because Muslims may support such a decision? Incidentally, pigs are reared mostly by the Scheduled Castes. What about banning the killing of rats? There are temples in the country where the rats are worshipped and are fed by the devotees. Or, take the case of Jains. They are strictly vegetarian. They do not eat any roots, ruling out potato and onion as edibles.
The Karnatka Chief Minister has reason to know the Jains pretty well. The Jain pilgrimage town of Sravanabelagola is situated in the state. It was there, in the third century BC, that the first Emperor of India, Chandragupta Maurya, embraced the Jain religion and died through a self-imposed fast to the death. Twelve hundred years later, in AD 981, a Jain general commissioned the largest monolithic statue in India, 60 feet high, on the top of the larger of the two hills, Vindhyagiri. It is the Vatican of the Digambara, or Sky Clad Jains.
The Jains are so fastidious when it comes to eating. This is how William Darlymple describes a Jain "Mataji" eating her food in his latest book Nine Lives: "The woman waited for her to nod, and then with a long spoon she put a titbit of food into her cupped and waiting hands. Each morsel she then turned over carefully with the thumb of her right hand, looking for a stray hair, or winged insect, or ant, or any living creature which might have fallen into the strictly vegetarian food, so rendering it impure".
It would be wholly unreasonable to expect non-Jains to adhere to the food habits of the Jains. Nowhere in the Constitution is there any warrant for treating a community as pre-eminent or its preferences as overriding. At this rate, it would not be long before non-vegetarian food would be banned in the country.
At Kurukshetra in Congress-ruled Haryana, no non-vegetarian food is served in any of the hotels or restaurants. A resident who enjoys non-vegetarian food occasionally has to go to Ambala to procure it. Come to think of it, killing of even chicken is banned in a place where "millions" of soldiers of both Pandavas and Kauravas were killed in the epic war! The second largest mass killing in human history occurred when the Second World War was triggered by a vegetarian by the name of Adolf Hitler.
For want of space, I would not like to quote from the Hindu scriptures which suggest that beef-eating was common in the Vedic period. There are countless temples where animal sacrifices are still performed.
I will end this column with an anecdote. I traveled in Germany for 14 days in the company, among others, of a senior journalist closely identified with the BJP. I found him eating beef throughout the journey. But after a few months of our return, when the BJP protested against a beef-processing company in Andhra Pradesh, he wrote a spirited article in defence of the holy cow. What a hypocrisy, gau mata! (Courtesy: Indian Currents)
—The writer is a senior journalist