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It's Not About Beef Any Longer, It's About My Life

By Gaurav Jain

25 October, 2015

It's time the Supreme Court of India take a firm stand. The court must decide whether it would continue giving ammunition to the communal elements to kill Akhlaqs, Nomans and Zahids in the name of "religious sentiments" or would it stand firmly and unambiguously by the side of fundamental rights of its citizens.

When the highest court of the country holds the beef-ban laws operational in various states as "Constitutional", it almost validates the highly contorted views of these Hindu-Supremacists that cow is a divine animal which must be protected. A view which is extrapolated to - whosoever tries to slaughter mother-cow or eats its meat deserves to be killed.

I am not saying that their ultra-sensitive sentiments would stop getting hurt if the beef-ban laws are repealed. But it would send a clear signal to these fanatics that their imbecile viewpoint has no state or legal backing. I am sure, in such a scenario, RSS would have found it a bit difficult to come up with a cover story in its mouthpiece 'Organizer' justifying the lynching of Akhlaq.

It's not just about Beef any longer. The way people are being mob-lynched on mere suspicion of eating beef or smuggling cows, It has encroached upon our fundamental right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by the Constitution of India under Article 21. Supreme Court has played a major role in expanding the scope of this article through its interpretation in various landmark judgements over the years. Right to food and freedom to choose what you want to eat - including Beef - is very well covered under it.

It baffles me, the ease with which governments comes up with arbitrary and illogical laws curtailing our choice of food and then shamelessly plead that it's within their prerogative and whatever restriction they are putting on our diet are in "Public good" and "reasonable" because, guess what, nobody dies if he doesn't eat beef!

If that's the logic being used, are we talking about fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution or alms given to us by the state which can be retracted at any moment at the drop of a hat?

I have never flown internationally in my life so far and probably never will. Incidentally, I have a passport. If tomorrow, government confiscates it, the impact on my life would be zilch! Does that give any right to the government to actually do so?

Thirty-eight years ago, the government precisely did that - confiscated someone's passport in the name of "public interest". That someone was Maneka Gandhi. She approached the Supreme Court for violation of her freedom of speech and right to life and personal liberty. Repealing section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act, the Supreme Court ruled that though the government has the power to make laws, they can't be arbitrary. They have to be just, fair and reasonable to be constitutionally valid.

The laws in various states banning cow-slaughter and consumption (even possession) of beef don't qualify on any of these 3 parameters laid down in 'Maneka Gandhi v. Union Of India' (1978 AIR 597). Except for the North-east of India and kerala, almost all the states in India have a ban of different degrees and severity on slaughtering cattle yet all of them enjoy constitutional validity! All thanks to the mind-numbing verdict of the Supreme Court in 2005 in 'State Of Gujarat vs Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab' (2005 8 SCC 534).

One of the arguments of the state government in this case was - "Beef contributes only 1.3% of the total meat consumption pattern of the Indian society. Consequently a prohibition on the slaughter of cattle would not substantially affect the food consumption of the people."

A frightening chill ran down my spine when I read this preposterous conclusion. Since a handful number of people eat beef, ban it. Since a handful number of people are gay, ban them. let the majority rule!

The Judiciary validates such reprehensible attempts of the state under the assumption that the legislature best knows what is best for its people. The court, while holding this view, forgets that coincidentally, State is the biggest litigator, fighting cases against the very same people.

Another pro-ban argument of the Gujarat government was that slaughtering of bulls and bullocks beyond the age of 16 years was constantly declining and constituted only 1.10% of the total slaughtering in the last 8 years "which is very less significant to cause or affect the business of butcher communities."

Expressing his Bewilderment to this logic, Justice A K Mathur said, "I fail to understand how this legislation can advance the cause of the public at the expense of the denial of Fundamental Right of this class of persons (butchers)." Justice Mathur was the lone dissenting voice in the 7-judge-bench.

This 2005 Verdict over-ruled the consistent judgement delivered by the Supreme Court during as many as 5 previous occasions, Mohd. Hanif Qureshi & Ors. Vs. State of Bihar (AIR 1958 SC 731) and Hashmattullah Vs. State of M.P. & Ors. (1996 (4) SCC 391) being the most prominent ones.

The crux of almost all the verdicts was - A total ban on the slaughter of buffaloes, bulls and bullocks after they cease to be capable of yielding milk or breeding or working as draught animals cannot be supported as reasonable in the interest of the general public. Mind you, a total ban on the slaughter of cows, irrespective of her age or usefulness, was still held "reasonable".

It's worth noting that all the petitioners in the above 6 cases were muslims whose profession was either slaughtering cattle or trading in beef etc. and they approached the Supreme Court because their fundamental rights to pursue their religion and profession under Article 14, Article 19(1)(g) and article 25 were violated. A consumer of beef or a citizen in general has never took offence of these bans so far and approached the Supreme Court for the violation of his right to life and personal liberty under article 21.

In 2005, the Supreme court ruled that even when a cattle becomes 'useless', it provides dung and urine which can be used to make organic fertilizers and pesticides in such colossal quantities that it offsets the cost incurred in maintaining the animal. Hence it can't be said that the cattle becomes useless and therefore should NOT be slaughtered.

In other words, the Apex Court held that the value of gaumutra (Urine) and gobar (dung) was more than our fundamental rights of life and liberty and profession and speech put together! Holy Sh*t! Before this judgement, the only animal, to the best of my knowledge, that had proven the worth of its life based exclusively on its excreta was Earthworm!

This verdict not only reduced the faith of an ordinary citizen in the judiciary, it also patronized the farmers. Just like I have my right to choose my diet, a farmer has the right to choose his farming style. If he wants to do away with his cows and bulls and use Urea and DAP instead, he should be free to do so. It's one thing to educate and incentivise them to adopt cow-dung, quite the other to thrust it down their throat!

Would the Lordships call it a "reasonable restriction" if tomorrow the government bans all the western style commodes and force us to use only desi toilet seats because according to a recent and highly reliable research reports, squatting has been found to be the best way to defecate!

The bottom line is, why am I forced to maintain a dry cow or an old bull all its life without expecting any return from it (except, of course, dung, urine and Methane farts, which contribute to global warning). If I am not able to maintain them, would the state provide me any kind of 'gau-subsidy'? If tomorrow, my young bull gets injured in some accident and become unfit for draught purposes, would the state transfer any money in my AADHAR-linked-bank Account to compensate for my loss and maintain it until it becomes fit-to-slaughter (if at all)? If I want money urgently but nobody is willing to buy my milching cows or working bulls, would the state buy them from me at a minimum-support-price? if not, why am I not free to sell them to a slaughterhouse? Why is a quick death in a slaughterhouse a crime but a slow, painful death by starvation or poisoning by garbage or road accident is all fine?

By banning cow/bull slaughter, the government deprives the farmer of an income of anywhere between Rs 20,000-40,000 (an estimate drawn from the price a dry buffalo fetches). And this income is cash in lump-sum which can be used by the farmer in case of an emergency! One of my friend from Manipur told me that "In the north-eastern states, people are not milk drinkers. They breed cattle with the primary purpose of beef". Isn't that a legitimate reason to rear a cow/bull? Shouldn't the final call of the nature of enterprise - milk centric or beef centric - be left to the farmer? And if not, have the government ever considered making any law banning the real-estate developers who build flats and sell them instead of renting them out?

Also, why do Cows enjoy such a venerated status and legal protection?

As per the state, "Cows, bulls, bullocks and calves of cows are no doubt the most important cattle for the agricultural economy of this country." It's a statement that needs no proof. So the logic goes like - since the cows are economically important, they need protection. fair enough.

But when it comes to buffaloes, the same 'economic importance' became a lethal disadvantage. The state argued, "Female buffaloes yield a large quantity of milk and are, therefore, well looked after and do not need as much protection as cows." Hang on, If we go by the previous logic, doesn't it mean buffaloes deserve more protection?

The mental assault doesn't end there. The state further legitimizes the discrimination stating - "As draught cattle, male buffaloes are not half as useful as bullocks." When asked why is it so, state's unconvincing reply was - "Based perhaps on age old experience Indian agriculturists habitually prefer a cow bullock to a buffalo bullock." This means there's nothing stopping the farmers from using buffalo bullocks in the farm other than their habit.

It clearly shows that these bovine categories are not based on agricultural or economic prudence but are concocted based on the religious significance of the respective animal. Protection of cow in the name of agriculture is simply used as a disguise to push forward a highly communal agenda.

As Anup Surendranath rightly points out in his recent opinion piece in the Hindu, thanks to the secular nature of our constitution, "(it) does not protect the cow as a religious symbol." Also, Cow is neither a wild animal nor an endangered species which could be protected under the Wildlife protection act. The government inadvertently resorts to the last and only weapon in its armory - Article 48 of the constitution under the Directive principles of the state policy.

This Article has been the fountainhead of all the idiocy and bigotry in the country. The article, not enforceable by any court, directs the state to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and other milch and draught cattle.

The question is, is blanket-banning the only way to secure the preservation, protection and improvement of livestock as envisioned in Article 48? If yes, then why decades of such bans haven't succeeded in achieving these objectives?

According to a report carried in Hindu Businessline, Over the last three decades (1982 to 2012), average productivity of Indian cows has grown from 1.9 to 3.9 kg per day. Compare this with the best of global standards — UK, US and Israel are at 25.6, 32.8 and 38.6 kg per day, respectively. How did these countries achieve such unbelievable numbers? Did they also resort to banning cow slaughter? A simple answer is, be it Americans, Britons or Israelis, they simply love their STEAK!

The 19th Livestock census (2007-2012), reveals the failure of this 'cow protectionist regime'. Despite the almost-exclusive-slaughtering, the Buffalo (both male & female) population has gone up by 3% to 108 million whereas indigenous Cow (both Male and female) population has gone down by 9% to 151 million! During the same time the exotic/crossbred cattle population increased by 20% to around 40 million! Clearly, what farmers are able to get is missed by the state and the judiciary. Its the simple fact that rearing indigenous cows is a loss-making proposition.

Also, How do you justify a ban on slaughtering cattle in the name of agriculture in a state like Delhi which is almost entirely urbanized and the contribution of agriculture to the state GDP is less than 1%? What happens to the male-calfs born here? Are they exported to other agri-states for draught purposes or smuggled to neighboring abattoir or illegally slaughtered within Delhi? And even if, for argument's sake, we make peace with the ban on cow and bull slaughter, why is eating and possessing beef a crime? If someone is importing beef from Meghalaya or Brazil and eating or serving to his customers, why is the government bothered?

Lets ask an even more fundamental question. Why does a government bans a food product in the first place? Food Safety and Standards act, 2006, extensively defines "unsafe food" but we can all agree that a food which is unfit for consumption, poisonous, or potentially injurious to the body or mind can be restricted or banned by the government. On which ground does beef, imported from a state or country where cow-slaughtering is legal, qualifies to be banned?

While selling or distributing an unsafe/poisonous food which results in a "grievous injury" to one or more people can put you behind the bars for up to 6 years, Selling or storing beef, which has no such lethal side effects, might still get you imprisoned for 5 years. It doesn't matter whether you are in Delhi, Haryana or Maharashtra.

To rub salt in the wounds, they placed the 'burden of proof' on the accused rather than the prosecution, putting a harmless act of eating/selling beef into the category of heinous crimes like rape and dowry death.

In the Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab case of 2005, the Gujarat government, lead by Narendra Modi, succeeded in convincing the Supreme court that "a restriction placed on any Fundamental Right, aimed at securing Directive Principles will be held as reasonable," thanks to its exceptional battalion of senior lawyers. I, despite being a first year law student, argue quite the opposite.

The situation in the society has changed drastically over the past couple of months. Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures. The Supreme court must take lead and enter into a new era of water-tight fundamental rights. Forget Directive Principles, to curtail a fundamental right, even the restrictions provided within the same article must not be allowed to be invoked unless the state is able to justify the inevitability of its actions not just reasonably but beyond reasonable doubt.

The current 'trickle-down approach' of the government and the judiciary towards our fundamental rights makes a mockery of them and almost defeats the entire purpose of having Fundamental rights in the first place.

Gaurav Jain is a student of law at Delhi University


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