Banning Cow Slaughter in India

Yes, if it is the will of the majority


I shall make the assumption that the majority of Hindus would support the full banning of cow slaughter. If so, this is no imposition of the tyranny of the majority. I assert so because such a ban is sensible even from the most ethical deontological perspective, of our duty to the most downtrodden member of society; as opposed to the utilitarian perspective of the greatest good for the greatest number.

We could look at this from the point of view of the slaughtered cows themselves, and clearly, a blanket ban would be most appealing. However, this would run up against my opponent’s argument that we should in that case ban the killing of all animals for food. This is clearly impractical, although ecologically speaking it would be immensely desirable: it takes some 50 pounds of plant material and 400 pounds of water to create one pound of animal protein. But the world is not going to turn vegetarian overnight, alas.

Therefore let us only consider downtrodden human actors: abattoir workers, tanners, butchers, and so forth. These people could be accommodated through alternatives: say, slaughter water buffalos, goats, pigs etc. For tanners, we could procure raw skins from other countries, say, China or Korea, which do a roaring leather business. In fact, because of sustained pressure from groups like PETA we may have to import skins anyway. Some say PETA is being egged on by Chinese leather interests. Perhaps.

Now who are the other “downtrodden” humans who would be affected by the unavailability of cow products? Non observant Hindus? Muslims? Christians? Sikhs? Eating beef is not a religious requirement for any of them. Even in Islamic scripture, it is perfectly acceptable to eat goat mutton; instead, some claim that it is only in India that Muslims insist on beef, as a means of ensuring that any Hindu convert to Islam, after eating beef, is truly alienated from Hinduism.

Similarly, people of other religions have alternative meats that they should be able to consume. Dietary regulations that are culture specific are common. For instance, although dogs, snakes, etc. are eaten in China, they are not consumed in America. People adjust to these consumption patterns. It is similar to kosher in Israel and halal in Muslim countries, nothing particularly unusual. Or the lack of pork or alcohol in Arab nations.

Since there is no cruel and unusual hardship imposed on anybody through the extension of the ban on cow slaughter to the holdout states of Kerala and West Bengal, and we assume there is majority support for it, I think the ban should be made law.

No, it is impractical and meaningless


Whether or not to ban cow slaughter has been on the front or back burner of Indian politics at least since 1857. Gandhiji espoused the cause. The Subjects Committee of the Unity Conference, at the instance of Pandit Malaviya, unanimously adopted a resolution in 1924 that cow slaughter shall be banned. Much later, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court declared that the imposition of the ban is constitutional, and is a reasonable restriction on the butcher’s right to kill cattle. Today, only Kerala and West Bengal allow cow slaughter, but with the BJP at the Center, demand for a total ban on cow slaughter is back on the front burner.

Cow protection is advocated in Buddhism and Jainism, both Indic traditions; even Babar, the most orthodox Muslim of the Mughals, prohibited cow slaughter. So too did Akbar, Jehangir, and Ahmad Shah. Hyder Ali of Mysore made cow slaughter an offence punishable by cutting off the hands of offenders.

We know India is a land of striking contrasts and paradoxes. While Indians ostensibly worship cows, they also butcher over 30,000 of them daily, usually in unsanitary, ill-managed torture chambers euphemistically called abattoirs. But the Indian Constitution in Article 48 (Directive Principles of State Policy) lays down quite clearly that the government must protect the cow, its progeny and other cattle used in agriculture. This is because cow worship is a part of Hindu tradition, despite what certain maverick Brahmin professors at Delhi University say.

The issue has to be debated on principles: why ban only cow slaughter and not the slaughter of all animals? The cow may be sacred to Hindus, but is the slaughter of pigs, goats, and chicken any less cruel? Would it assuage the Hindu conscience merely to ban the slaughter of one of God’s creatures? This is not to advocate vegetarianism or beef eating so much as to ask the more valid question: who decides which living creature is fit for human consumption?

In a democracy, the majority may decide. But it cannot be the role of the central government to enforce such a ban, simply because the Indian Constitution puts the matter under state jurisdiction. If all state legislatures also ban the slaughter of any animal, including fish, for human consumption, that is fine too, just as the opposite verdict too should be accepted to allow the slaughter of cows, pigs, chicken or dogs (if Indians take to Thai or Korean cuisine).

Since I don’t see human beings giving up meat in the near future, or the wearing of leather, let us regulate the meat and leather industry so that even if we cannot stop the slaughter we at least do it with the least pain and suffering. n

Ramesh N. Rao teaches at Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri.

Rajeev Srinivasan
Rajeev Srinivasan considers San Francisco and Kerala his two homes. His columns also appear in Rediff on the Net and The Sunday Observer.
Categories   Perspectives 


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