South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The politics around the cow has begun. The issue of cow slaughter is gaining importance over other more important issues concerning lives of the common people. In Rajasthan’s Alwar district Pehlu Khan, a dairy owner from Haryana was attacked by cow vigilantes. Later he succumbed to his injuries. The sad reality is sentimental issues get more importance than rational.

Recently the Gujarat Assembly amended the Gujarat Animal Preservation Act of 1954 awarding life sentence in cases of cow slaughter. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh went ahead and made a statement that shocked India. He said, “We will hang those who kill cows”.

In Uttar Pradesh (UP), CM Yogi Adityanath’s crackdown on illegal slaughterhouse has created panic. The iconic Tunday Kabab in Lucknow, that is famous for buffalo meat kebabs, had to shut down. The BJP candidate N Sreeprakash from Kerala’s Mallapuram Lok Sabha by-poll initially ensured his voters of supply of good beef from clean and modernized abattoirs. Later on he said his statement was distorted and he is against cow slaughter. The issue of cow slaughter has become BJP’s topmost priority. The fact is it is high on the priority list of RSS since its inception.

The state of Gujarat has a sizeable and vocal vegetarian population. The percentage of vegetarian people is much more in Gujarat than in other states. Cow vigilantism also has a long history in Gujarat. They are pro-active, aggressive and harass people who are in the business of meat. Last year in Una, cow vigilantes brutally attacked and stripped four Dalits. The Dalit community and others across India protested against the brutal assault on Dalits of Una. The cow vigilantes are present across Gujarat and have a direct connections with RSS and the ruling BJP government.

The Gujarat assembly elections are going to be held at the end of the current year. CM Vijay Rupani said, “We will make the state sakahari (vegetarian)”. At the same time, he said that ‘he was not against any food’. It is absolutely confusing. It is said that if you cannot convince, confuse them. If CM says he is not against any food, then why does he want Gujarat to become a ‘vegetarian state’. If he and BJP are not against any food then the question  arises why they are banning particular food and trying to impose their food on others. People cannot be compelled to eat what rulers or cow vigilantes want them to eat.
The Gujarat Animal Preservation Act was earlier amended in 2011, when Narendra Modi was CM of the state. The maximum punishment for cow slaughter was made seven years. Now, it is increased to life sentence. It also means it is equal to killing of a human being. Capital punishment is awarded in rarest of rare cases. The punishment for the possession of beef has also been made more stringent. The provisions made in the bill is seven to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine between Rs 1 lakh and 5 lakh. It is a non-bailable offence. Till now, the minimum sentence was for three years and maximum sentence was seven years. The fine was Rs 50,000.

The Hindu right wingers have been demanding a total ban on cow slaughter since Independence. On November 7, 1966 Hindutva groups led the first attack on Indian Parliament. They were demanding nationwide ban on cow slaughter. They had mobilised more than a lakh people. At the end of the day, there was hardly any building in the Parliament Street which was not vandalized.

In Haryana’s Jajjar, five Dalits were murdered in 2002 on the suspicion that they had killed three cows. Acharya Giriraj Kishore, then International Vice-President of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), defended killing of Dalits by quoting Hindu scriptures to say that the life of a cow was more precious than that of a human being.

In Gujarat’s circuit houses, non-vegetarian food is not served. They do not serve egg omlettes for breakfast. This is happening for a long time. It indicates how much influence vegetarians have on the power structure. Even on the national highways passing through Gujarat it is not easy to find non-vegetarian food. Most of the restaurants serve pure vegetarian food. This does not mean that most of the Gujaratis are vegetarian. Muslims, tribals, people from OBC, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are not vegetarian.

But the dominant Patels, a land owning community, is highly influenced by Swaminarayan sect, which promotes non-violence. The sect is also involved in constructing huge temples across world. The fishing community is also influenced by the sect as well as Swadhyay Parivar. They also promote vegetarianism. Even many people from the fishing community have abandoned eating non-vegetarian food including fish.

The reality is politics around cows also brings votes. More stringent law against cow slaughter also brings more votes. It is an emotional issue. One can get votes by exploiting people’s sentiments. But such issues disturb national integration. One needs to respect each other’s food habits.

Turning Gujarat into a vegetarian state may be a dream of Vijay Rupani. But it cannot be achieved by compelling people to abandon non-vegetarian food. In a secular democracy people cannot be compelled to change their food habits. Rather one should respect each other’s food habits. The dilemma before the rulers in Gujarat is they are promoting the state globally for foreign investment. The foreign investors are primarily non-vegetarians. Today the rulers are talking about food habits. Tomorrow they will decide how one should dress. This is fascism.


Updated On: 10.04.2017