By Inderjit Badhwar
The more we read about the politics of beef and meat, the more confused we get. The greater the confusion, the greater the mutual religious and communal suspicion and hatred, the greater the violence, the greater the polarization and the greater the benefit to the politician. Keeping the communal cauldron bubbling over meat politics rather than looking for actual solutions and trying to clear the cobwebs of disinformation translates into votes through divide and rule politics.
That, unfortunately, is what is happening in India at the moment and I believe it is the duty of journalists—as we have tried to do in our cover story package written by Ajith Pillai, Kalyani Shankar and Rakesh Bhatnagar—to dig deeper than ever before to unearth facts and present them to the clear light of analysis and reasoned debate. But journalists, I am ashamed to admit, have by and large, themselves become rabble-rousers in this controversy, adding further fuel to the fires of obscurantism and unreason spreading across the land.
The first thing we should abjure is the use of scriptures and religion and saintly commentaries to justify our positions and prejudices. We have modern minds, thank the lord, and we don’t need to throw the Vedas or the revered Bhagwad Gita or Quran or Bible at each other to argue for or against orderly, civilized, humane conduct governed by constitutional norms and the rule of law in our everyday lives.
Alas, not having read Sanskrit or Pali, I am in no position to comment on who is wrong or who is right regarding proscriptions against or sanctions for beef eating in the Vedas or the Sutras or the Shastras. In any case, many thousands of years later, the veracity of any of these positions is no excuse for the cursed lynching to death of a member of a minority religion for storing meat.
Nor is this an argument for or against vege-tarianism. That’s a personal preference. I respect freedom of choice. This is, however, a simple exposition of historical, constitutional, legal, and economic reality as it has unfolded in the present, along with the wisdom of thinkers who are sound of mind and spirit. I may not be able to quote the Atharva Veda or Guru Vashista on this subject but I can certainly dig up the writings of Gandhiji and jurists and people of judicial eminence who have thought deeply on this subject.
Agitations over cow slaughter and the sensitivity of India’s rulers to this issue date back hundreds of years. I started my own career as a cub reporter for The Indian Express in 1966 and covered the VHP-Hindu Mahasabha-RSS-Jana Sangh agitation led by a Shankaracharya. They wanted a constitutional amendment to ban cow slaughter throughout the country. The movement turned violent as thousands of trisul-wielding sadhus broke into the parliamentary compound and set fires to adjoining properties. They also tried to ransack Congress President Kamraj’s house. Eight people, including a policeman were killed after the police opened fire.
In April 1979, the 82-year-old Vinoba Bhave proceeded with a fast-unto-death seeking a national ban on cow slaughter but called it off after being assured that the government would take steps to resolve the matter.
Has the matter been resolved? What does the law say about the matter? What does the constitution say? Why is Congress leader Digvijaya Singh daring the ruling BJP to bring a national law on this subject and then offering Congress support to it? Haven’t states already banned the sale, export or consumption of beef? Many of these issues have been addressed in the stories that follow. Others I will try and address—along with commentaries from thinkers—in the ensuing paragraphs.
First, what does the constitution say? (The question of banning cow slaughter was debated in the Constituent Assembly and a consensus emerged that there should be no national statute banning the consumption of beef. The goal was instead included in the non-binding Directive Principles of State Policy.
No paraphrasing or interpretation here, simply the language): “The Preservation, protection and improvement of stock and prevention of animal diseases, veterinary training and practice” is Entry 15 of the State List of the Seventh Schedule of the constitution, meaning that state legislatures have exclusive powers to legislate the prevention of slaughter and preservation of cattle. Some states allow the slaughter of cattle with restrictions like a “fit-for-slaughter” certificate, which may be issued depending on factors like age and gender of cattle, continued economic viability, etc. Others completely ban cattle slaughter, while there is no restriction in a few states. Prohibition of cow slaughter is a Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Article 48 of the constitution. It reads: “The State shall endeavour to organise 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.”
What did the father of the nation, Gandhiji, who is used by both sides for their arguments, actually say during his prayer meeting (July 25, 1947, Collected Works Vol. 88) when the Constituent Assembly was under way in response to thousands of letters from Hindus on this subject? He said: “I have another telegram which says that a friend has started a fast for this cause. In India no law can be made to ban cow-slaughter. I do not doubt that Hindus are forbidden the slaughter of cows. I have been long pledged to serve the cow but how can my religion also be the religion of the rest of the Indians? It will mean coercion against those Indians who are not Hindus.
“We have been shouting from the house-tops that there will be no coercion in the matter of religion. We have been reciting verses from the Koran at the prayer. But if anyone were to force me to recite these verses I would not like it. How can I force anyone not to slaughter cows unless he is himself so disposed? It is not as if there were only Hindus in the Indian Union. There are Muslims, Parsis, Christians and other religious groups here.
“The assumption of the Hindus that India now has become the land of the Hindus is erroneous. India belongs to all who live here. If we stop cow slaughter by law here and the very reverse happens in Pakistan, what will be the result? Supposing they say Hindus would not be allowed to visit temples because it was against Shariat to worship idols? I see God even in a stone but how do I harm others by this belief? If therefore I am stopped from visiting temples I would still visit them. I shall therefore suggest that these telegrams and letters should cease. It is not proper to waste money on them.
“…We really do not stop to think what true religion is and merely go about shouting that cow-slaughter should be banned by law. In villages Hindus make bullocks carry huge burdens which almost crush the animals. Is it not cow-slaughter, albeit slowly carried out? I shall therefore suggest that the matter should not be pressed in the Constituent Assembly.”
And what do the courts say? There are two major Supreme Court decisions, 47 years apart, on this subject that give different rulings. The Hindu has quoted them at length. The first (1958) was delivered by a five-judge bench which held that “there is no getting away from the fact that beef or buffalo meat is an item of food for a large section of the people in India”. The apex court found that cattle, except cows of all ages and calves of both cows and buffaloes, not capable of milch or draught, can be slaughtered. The court classified such cattle as “useless”. In fact, the apex court found that keeping “useless cattle” alive would be a “wasteful drain” on the nation’s cattle feed.
Chief Justice Das termed beef as the common man’s diet. “The comparatively low prices of beef and buffalo flesh, which are nearly half that of mutton or goats’ flesh, is the main reason for their demand,” the Bench held. “Poorer people, therefore, who can hardly afford fruit or milk or ghee, are likely to suffer from malnutrition if they are deprived of even one slice of beef or buffalo flesh which may sometimes be within their reach,” the apex court held in 1958.
This stand was reversed in 2005 when the Supreme Court under Justice Lahoti upheld Gujarat’s total ban on cattle slaughter, regardless of whether the bovine is useless or useful. The Hindu reported: “Chief Justice of India (retired) R.C. Lahoti, heading a seven-judge Bench wrote the majority opinion for the court. The Bench pooh-poohed the reasoning that beef was the poor man’s protein rich diet.
“Beef contributes only 1.3 per cent of the total meat consumption pattern of the Indian society,” the court held.
Acknowledging the Gujarat government’s version comparing the dung of a cow to a “Kohinoor diamond”, the Supreme Court
disagreed with its 1958 verdict that useless cattle can be slaughtered. “This is the land of Mahatma Gandhi, Vinobha, F, Buddha, Nanak and others. It will be an act of reprehensible ingratitude to condemn cattle in old age as useless and send them to a slaughterhouse. We have to remember… The weak and meek need more protection and compassion,” the apex court observed.
In 2008, an extremely important judgment that bridges what appears to be a seeming gap between these two points of view was delivered (Hinsa Virodhak Sangh vs Mirzapur Moti Kuresh Jamat & Ors on 14 March, 2008) by a bench of Justices HK Sema and Markandey Katju.
Like in a recent case in Maharashtra, the petitioners were Muslim meat traders who challenged Ahmedabad’s closing down of butcher shops for a brief period in which the Jain community observes its festival, Paryushan. In a nutshell, the court opined that had the closures been ordered for a longer period of time, it would have amounted to a constitutional violation of the Muslim butchers’ right to practice their livelihood, but for the sake of diversity and tolerance and respect for all sentiments, a short period of the ban could be condoned.
- But of great significance is Judge Katju’s stellar observations on the nature of the Indian state and the supreme duty of all Indians to uphold its diversity. He enunciates, through historical examples and principles of natural law, the primacy of avoiding playing the communal or religious card through intolerance and reaping political benefit from the politics of meat. I will quote him at length because his observations ring truer than ever before:
- It must be remembered that India is a multi-cultural pluralistic society with tremendous diversity. There are a large number of religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups, cultures, etc, in our country. Somebody is tall, somebody is short, somebody is fair, somebody is brown, somebody is dark in complexion, someone has Caucasian features, someone has Mongoloid features, someone has Negroid features, etc. We may compare our country with China which is larger in population and size than India. China has 1.3 billion people while our population is 1.1 billion. Also, China has more than twice our land area. However, there is broad homogeneity in China. All Chinese have Mongoloid features; they have a common written script (Mandarin Chinese) and 96% of them belong to one ethnic group called the Han Chinese.
- On the other hand, India as stated above, has tremendous diversity and this is due to large scale migrations and invasion into India over thousands of years.
- People migrate from uncomfortable areas to comfortable areas. Before the coming of modern industry there were agricultural societies and India was a paradise for these because agriculture requires level land, fertile soil, plenty of water for irrigation etc. which was in abundance in India. Why would anybody living in India migrate to Afghanistan which has a harsh terrain, rocky and mountainous and covered with snow for several months in a year when one cannot grow any crop? Hence, almost all migrations and invasions came from outside into India (except in recent times when some people have gone to other countries for job opportunities). Most of the migrations/ invasions came from the North-West, and to a much lesser extent from the North-East of India. Thus, people kept pouring into India, and it is for this reason that there is so much diversity in India.
- As the great Urdu poet Firaq Gorakhpuri wrote: In the land of Hind, the Caravans of the peoples of the world kept coming in and India kept getting formed.
- Since India is a country of great diversity, it is absolutely essential if we wish to keep our country united to have tolerance and respect for all communities and sects. It was due to the wisdom of our founding fathers that we have a Constitution which is secular in character, and which caters to the tremendous diversity in our country.
- Thus it is the Constitution of India which is keeping us together despite all our tremendous diversity, because the Constitution gives equal respect to all communities, sects, lingual and ethnic groups, etc. in the country.
- The architect of modern India was the great Mughal Emperor Akbar who gave equal respect to people of all communities and appointed them to the highest offices on their merits irrespective of their religion, caste, etc.
- The Emperor Akbar held discussions with scholars of all religions and gave respect not only to Muslim scholars, but also to Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs, etc. Those who came to his court were given respect and the Emperor heard their views, sometimes alone, and sometimes in the Ibadatkhana (Hall of Worship), where people of all religions assembled and discussed their views in a tolerant spirit. The Emperor declared his policy of Suleh-e-Kul, which means universal tolerance of all religions and communities. He abolished Jeziya in 1564 and the pilgrim tax in 1563 on Hindus and permitted his Hindu wife to continue to practise her own religion even after their marriage. This is evident from the Jodha Bai Palace in Fatehpur Sikri which is built on Hindu architectural pattern.
- In 1578, the Parsi theologian Dastur Mahyarji Rana was invited to the Emperor’s court and he had detailed discussions with Emperor Akbar and acquainted him about the Parsi religion. Similarly, the Jesuit Priests Father Antonio Monserrate, Father Rodolfo Acquaviva and Father Francisco Enriques etc. also came to the Emperor’s court….
- The Emperor also became acquainted with Sikhism and came into contact with Guru Amar Das and Guru Ram Das (see The Mughal Empire by R.C. Majumdar). Thus, as stated in the Cambridge History of India (Vol.IV — The Mughal Period) Emperor Akbar conceived the idea of becoming the father of all his subjects, rather than the leader of only the Muslims, and he was far ahead of his times. As mentioned by Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru in The Discovery of India Akbar’s success is astonishing, for he created a sense of oneness among the diverse elements of India.
- The Emperor invited and received a Jain delegation consisting of Hiravijaya Suri, Bhanuchandra Upadhyaya and Vijayasena Suri. Jainism, with its doctrine of non-violence, made a profound impression on him and influenced his personal life. He curtailed his food and drink and ultimately abstained from flesh diet altogether for several months in the year. He renounced hunting which was his favourite pastime, restricted the practice of fishing and released prisoners and caged birds. Slaughter of animals was prohibited on certain days and ultimately in 1587 for about half the days in the year.
- Akbar’s contact with Jains began as early as 1568, when Padma Sunder who belonged to the Nagpuri Tapagaccha was honoured by him. As mentioned in Dr. Ishwari Prasad’s The Mughal Empire, the Jains had a great influence on the Emperor…. Having heard of the virtues and learning of Hir Vijaya Suri in 1582 the Emperor sent an invitation to him through the Mughal Viceroy at Ahmedabad. He accepted it in the interests of his religion. He was offered money by the Viceroy to defray the expenses of the journey but he refused. The delegation consisting of Hir Vijaya Suri, Bhanu Chandra Upadhyaya and Vijaya Sen Suri started on their journey and walked on foot to Fatehpur Sikri and were received with great honour befitting imperial guests. Hir Vijaya Suri had discussion with Abul Fazl. He propounded the doctrine of Karma and an impersonal God. When he was introduced to the Emperor he defended true religion and told him that the foundation of faith should be daya (compassion) and that God is one though he is differently named by different faiths.
- The Emperor received instruction in Dharma from Suri who explained the Jain doctrines to him…. The Emperor was persuaded to forbid the slaughter of animals for six months in Gujarat and to abolish the confiscation of the property of deceased persons, the Sujija Tax (Jeziya) and a Sulka (possibly a tax on pilgrims) and to free caged birds and prisoners. He stayed for four years at Akbar’s court and left for Gujarat in 1586. He imparted a knowledge of Jainism to Akbar and obtained various concessions to his religion. The Emperor is said to have taken a vow to refrain from hunting and expressed a desire to leave off meat-eating for ever as it had become repulsive…. The killing of animals was forbidden for
- If the Emperor Akbar could forbid meat eating for six months in a year in Gujarat, is it unreasonable to abstain from meat for nine days in a year in Ahmedabad today? Emperor Akbar was a propagator of Suleh-i-Kul (universal toleration) at a time when Europeans were indulging in religious massacres e.g. the St. Bartholomew Day massacre in 1572 of Protestants, (called Huguenots) in France by the Catholics, the burning at the stake of Protestants by Queen Mary of England, the massacre by the Duke of Alva of millions of people for their resistance to Rome and the burning at the stake of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition. We may also mention the subsequent massacre of the Catholics in Ireland by Cromwell, and the mutual massacre of Catholics and Protestants in Germany during the thirty year war from 1618 to 1648 in which the population of Germany was reduced from 18 million to 12 million. Thus, Emperor Akbar was far ahead of even the Europeans of his times.
- Emperor Akbar himself abstained from eating meat on Fridays and Sundays and on some other days, as has been mentioned in the Ain-I-Akbari by Abul Fazl. It was because of the wise policy of toleration of the Great Emperor Akbar that the Mughal empire lasted for so long, and hence the same wise policy of toleration alone can keep our country together despite so much diversity.
We may give another historical illustration of tolerance in our country. In the reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Avadh, in a certain year Holi and Muharrum coincidentally fell on the same day. Holi is a festival of joy, whereas Muharrum is an occasion for mourning.
- The Hindus of Lucknow decided that they would not celebrate Holi that year out of respect for the sentiments for their Muslim brethren. On that day, the Nawab joined the Muharrum procession and after burial of the Tazia at Karbala he enquired why Holi is not being celebrated. He was told that it was not being celebrated because the Hindus out of respect for the sentiments of their Muslim brethren had decided not to play Holi that year because it was a day of mourning for the Muslims. On hearing this, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah declared that since Hindus have respected the sentiments of their Muslim brothers, it is also the duty of the Muslims to respect the sentiments of their Hindu brethren. Hence, he announced that Holi would be celebrated the same day and he himself was the first who started playing Holi on that day and thereafter everyone in Lucknow, including the Muslims, played Holi, although it was Muharrum day also. It is this kind of sentiment of tolerance which alone can keep our country united.
- We are making these comments because what we are noticing now-a-days is a growing tendency of intolerance in our country. Article 1(1) of the Constitution states: India i.e Bharat is a Union of States.
- It may be mentioned that during the Constituent Assembly debates some members of the Constituent Assembly were of the view that India should be described as a Federation. However, instead of the word “Federation” the word “Union” was deliberately selected by the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly to indicate two things, viz., (a) that the Indian Union is not the result of an agreement by the States, and (b) that the component States have no freedom to secede from it.
- Moving the Draft Constitution for the consideration of the Constituent Assembly on November 4, 1948, Dr. Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee explained the significance of the use of the expression “Union” instead of the expression “Federation”:-
- ”It is true that South Africa which is a unitary State is described as a Union. But Canada which is a Federation is also called a Union. Thus the description of India as a Union, though its constitution is federal, does no violence to usage. But what is important is that the use of the word “Union” is deliberate. I do not know why the word “Union” was used in the Canadian Constitution. But I can tell you why the Drafting Committee has used it. The Drafting Committee wanted to make it clear that though India was to be a federation, the federation was not the result of an agreement by the States to join in a federation, and that the federation not being the result of an agreement, no State has the right to secede from it. The federation is a Union because it is indestructible. Though the country and the people may be divided into different States for convenience of administration, the country is one integral whole, its people a single people living under a single imperium derived from a single source. The Americans had to wage a civil war to establish that the States have no right of secession and that their federation was indestructible. The Drafting Committee thought that it was better to make it clear at the outset rather than to leave it to speculation or to dispute….
- Thus India is not an association or confederation of States, it is a Union of States and there is only one nationality that is Indian. Hence every Indian has a right to go anywhere in India, to settle anywhere, and work and do business of his choice in any part of India, peacefully. These days unfortunately some people seem to be perpetually on a short fuse, and are willing to protest often violently, about anything under the sun on the ground that a book or painting or film etc. has “ hurt the sentiments” of their community. These are dangerous tendencies and must be curbed with an iron hand. We are one nation and must respect each other and should have tolerance.
- As the great Tamil Poet Subramaniya Bharati wrote: Muppadhu kodi mugamudayal Enil maipuram ondrudayal Ival Seppumozhi padhinetudayal Enil Sindhanai ondrudayal, which means, “This is Bharatmaata has thirty crores of faces! But her body is one. She speaks eighteen languages! But her thought is one.”
- In the present case we have seen that for a long period slaughter houses have been closed in Gujarat for a few days out of respect for the sentiments of the Jain community, which has a sizable population in Gujarat and Rajasthan. We see nothing unreasonable in this restriction.
- As already stated above, it is a short restriction for a few days and surely the non-vegetarians can remain vegetarian for this short period. Also, the traders in meat of Ahmedabad will not suffer much merely because their business has been closed down for 9 days in a year. There is no prohibition to their business for the remaining 356 days in a year. In a multi cultural country like ours with such diversity, one should not be over sensitive and over touchy about a short restriction when it is being done out of respect for the sentiments of a particular section of society. It has been stated above that the great Emperor Akbar himself used to remain a vegetarian for a few days every week out of respect for the vegetarian section of the Indian society and out of respect for his Hindu wife. We too should have similar respect for
the sentiments for others, even if they are a minority sect.
Having listened to Judge Katju’s wisdom, suppose we should go ahead, as some are suggesting and make a constitutional law to prohibit the sale of beef everywhere, have we given any heed to the logistical and economic consequences? These are not intended to deny proponents of a national beef ban their right to propose it but to point out what all this would entail.
Executive Editor, Ajith Pillai, in his detailed analysis in this issue, brings out the problems involved in maintaining economically unproductive cattle. As he says, it would require a welfare plan at the national level which would entail thousands of crores of seed money and regular financial inputs year after year. Is any government prepared to bear such colossal costs brushing aside other priorities that are crying out for attention? These are questions which need to be addressed instead of talking in the air about gau raksha.