August 21, 2017

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Indians are traditionally anti-cow SLAUGHTERERS

- Debolina Partap, Vice President Legal and General Counsel [ Wockhardt Group ]

Debolina Partap

The only time I read renowned Hindi author Munshi Premchand’s Godaan was when I took my son’s Hindi lessons for CBSE 9th Grade. Being an urban woman, my reflection of agrarian realism was very limited. But the book indeed gave me a glance into the lives of farmers and their most trusted friends, i.e., cattle. Cattle slaughter is a controversial topic in India today because of cattle’s traditional status as an endeared and respected living being to many in Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism, in contrast to cattle being considered as a religiously acceptable source of meat by many in Islam and Christianity. More specifically, cow slaughter has been shunned because of a number of reasons such as cattle being associated with Lord Krishna in Hinduism and being respected as an integral part of rural livelihoods and an essential economic necessity. Historically, cattle slaughter has also been opposed by various Indian religions because of the ethical principle of Ahimsa (nonviolence) and the belief in the unity of all life. I wonder what wrong did other animals do to be deprived of such a status in India besides getting protected under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals statutes. It is surprising that the three animals prayed to the most are Nandi, the bull, and Kamadhenu, the Divine cow; Hanuman, the Monkey God; and the Snake God. Wonder what happens to swans, rats, yaks, tigers, lions, and peacocks (these being associated with Goddess Saraswati, Lord Ganesha, Lord Yama, Goddess Durga, Lord Kartikeya, etc.). Perhaps, they are left to projects like save tigers and lions.

Article 48 of the Constitution of India mandates the state to prohibit the slaughter of cows and calves and other milk and draught cattle. On October 26, 2005, the Supreme Court of India, in a landmark judgment, upheld the constitutional validity of anti-cow slaughter laws enacted by different state governments in India. Twenty-four states in India currently have various regulations prohibiting either the slaughter or sale of cows. The laws governing cattle slaughter in India vary greatly from state to state. 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.

On May 26, 2017, the Ministry of Environment of the Indian Central Government led by Bharatiya Janata Party imposed a ban on the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets across India under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals statutes. The scope, extent, and status of animals in ancient India are subjects of scholarly dispute. Many interpret ancient Hindu texts as supporting animal sacrifice. For example, cattle including cows were neither inviolable nor revered in the ancient times as they were later. A Gryhasutra recommends that beef be eaten by the mourners after a funeral ceremony as a ritual rite of passage. In contrast, according to Marvin Harris, the Vedic literature is contradictory, with some suggesting ritual slaughter and meat consumption, while others suggesting a taboo on meat eating.

Animal sacrifice was rejected, and the protection of animal life was championed by Jainism on the grounds that violence against life forms is a source of suffering in the universe and a human being creates bad karma by violence against any living being. The Chandogya Upanishad mentions the ethical value of Ahimsa or non-violence towards all beings. By the midfirst millennium BCE, all three major Indian religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism – were championing non-violence as an ethical value and something that impacted one’s rebirth. According to Harris, by about 200 CE, food and feasting on animal slaughter were widely considered a form of violence against life forms and became a religious and social taboo.

The cow has been a symbol of wealth in India since ancient times. Cow veneration in ancient India “probably originated from the pastoral Aryans” in the Vedic era, whose religious texts called for non-violence towards all bipeds and quadrupeds, and often equated the killing of a cow with the killing of a human being, especially a Brahmin. The hymn 10.87.16 of the Hindu scripture Rigveda (~1200–1500 BCE) condemns all killing of men, cattle, and horses and prays to God Agni to punish those who kill.

The veneration of cow is seen in the Ramayana as well as Mahabharata.

According to Ludwig Alsdorf, “Indian vegetarianism is unequivocally based on ahimsa (non-violence)” as evidenced by ancient smritis and other ancient texts of Hinduism. To the majority of modern Indians, states Alsdorf, respect for cattle and disrespect for slaughter is a part of their ethos and there is “no ahimsa without renunciation of meat consumption.”

Jainism is against violence to all living beings, including cattle. According to the Jain sutras, humans must avoid all killing and slaughter because all living beings are fond of life, they suffer, they feel pain, they like to live, and long to live. All beings should help each other live and prosper, according to Jainism, not kill and slaughter each other.

The texts of Buddhism state ahimsa to be one of five ethical precepts, which requires a practicing Buddhist to “refrain from killing living beings.” Slaughtering cow has been a taboo, with some texts suggesting taking care of a cow is a means of taking care of “all living beings.” Cattle is seen as a form of reborn human beings in the endless rebirth cycles in samsara; protecting animal life and being kind to cattle and other animals are good karma.

Cow, buffalo, and ox are an integral part of rural Sikh livelihoods, and these are never slaughtered for consumption by any method but are treated with respect and beef is strictly avoided. Amritdhari Sikhs, or those baptized with the Amrit, have been strict vegetarians, abstaining from all eggs and meat, including cattle meat. Ranjit Singh, founder of the Sikh Empire and Maharaja from 1801 to 1839, banned cow slaughter throughout his domains.

Cattle slaughter, in accordance with the Islamic custom, was practiced in the Mughal Empire under its Sunni rulers with a few exceptions. Religiously liberal emperor Akbar, out of respect for the demographic majority of Hindus, criminalized cow slaughtering. In one case, Akbar banished his high official for the offense of cow slaughter. Mughal emperor Humayun stopped eating beef after the killing of cows in Hindu territory by his soldiers led to clashes, according to the Tezkerah al-Vakiat. Later, Mughal Emperor Jahangir (1605–1627) imposed a ban on cattle slaughter for a few years, not out of respect for Hindus but because cattle had become scarce.

With the advent of British rule in India, eating beef along with drinking whiskey, in English-language colleges in Bengal, became a method of fitting in with British culture. Some Hindus, in the 1830s, consumed beef to show how they “derided irrational Hindu customs,” according to Metcalf and Metcalf. The reverence for the cow played a role in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the British East India Company. Hindu and Muslim sepoys in the army of the East India Company came to believe that their paper cartridges, which held a measured amount of gunpowder, were greased with cow and pig fat. The consumption of swine is forbidden in Islam. Since loading the gun required biting off the end of a paper cartridge, they concluded that the British were forcing them to break edicts of their religion.

During Bahadur Shah Zafar’s brief reign as emperor, killing of a cow was made a capital offense. Cow slaughter was opposed by some prominent leaders of the independence movement such as Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Madan Mohan Malviya, Rajendra Prasad, and Purushottam Das Tandon. They supported a ban on cattle slaughter once India gained its independence from the colonial British.

In 1940, one of the Special Committees of the Indian National Congress stated that slaughter of cow and its progeny must be totally prohibited.

In 1944, the British placed restrictions on cattle slaughter in India on the grounds that the shortage of cattle was causing anxiety to the government. The shortage itself was attributed to the increased demand for cattle for cultivation, transport, milk, and other purposes. It was decided that in respect of slaughter by army authorities, working cattle as well as cattle fit for bearing offspring should not be slaughtered. Accordingly, the slaughter of all cattle below three years of age, male cattle between three and ten years of age, female cattle between three and ten years of age, which are capable of producing milk, as well as all cows which are pregnant or milking was prohibited.

During the British Raj, there were several cases of communal riots caused by the slaughter of cows. A historical survey of some major communal riots, between 1717 and 1977, revealed that out of 167 incidents of rioting between Hindus and Muslims, although in some cases the reasons for the provocation of the riots was not given, 22 cases were attributable directly to cow slaughter.


The cow has been a symbol of wealth in India since ancient times. Vedic texts of the pastoral Aryans equate killing of a cow with killing of a human being, especially a Brahmin

The central government, in a letter dated December 20, 1950, directed the state governments not to introduce total prohibition on slaughter stating, “Hides from slaughtered cattle are much superior to hides from the fallen cattle and fetch a higher price. In the absence of slaughter, the best type of hide which fetches good price in the export market will no longer be available. A total ban on slaughter is thus detrimental to the export trade and works against the interest of the Tanning industry in the country.”

In several cases such as Mohd. Hanif Qureshi v. State of Bihar (AIR 1959 SCR 629), Hashumatullah v. State of Madhya Pradesh, Abdul Hakim and others v. State of Bihar (AIR 1961 SC 448), and Mohd. Faruk v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court has held that “a total ban was not permissible if, under economic conditions, keeping useless bull or bullock be a burden on the society and therefore not in the public interest.” The clause “under economic conditions, keeping useless (...)” has been studied by the Animal Welfare Board of India which determined that the fuel made from cow dung for household cooking purposes in the Indian society suggests that the cattle is never useless while it produces dung.

In May 2016, the Bombay High Court upheld the ban on cow slaughter in the state of Maharashtra.

The Supreme Court of India heard a case in 2017 which petitioned the court to order a ban on the common illegal treatment of animals during transport and slaughter. In February 2017, the court ordered state governments to stop illegal slaughterhouses and set up enforcement committees to monitor the treatment of animals used for meat and leather. The court also ruled, according to a Times of India report, that “it was evident from the combined reading of Articles 48 and 51- A(g) of the [Indian] Constitution that citizens must show compassion to the animal kingdom. The animals have their own fundamental rights. Article 48 specifically lays down that the state shall endeavor to prohibit the slaughter of cows and calves, other milk and draught cattle.”

There is a lack of uniformity among state laws governing cattle slaughter. The strictest laws are in Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh, where the slaughter of cow and its progeny, including bulls and bullocks of all ages, is completely banned. Most states prohibit the slaughter of cows of all ages. However, Assam and West Bengal permit the slaughter of cows of over the ages of 10 and 14 years, respectively. Most states prohibit the slaughter of calves, whether male or female. With the exception of Bihar and Rajasthan, where age of a calf is given as below three years, the other states have not defined the age of a calf. According to the National Commission on Cattle, the definition of a calf being followed in Maharashtra, by some executive instructions, was “below the age of one year.” In Delhi, Goa, Puducherry, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh, violation of state laws on cattle slaughter are both cognizable and non-bailable offences. Most of the other states specify that offenses would be cognizable only. The maximum term of imprisonment varies from 6 months to 14 years (life-term) and a fine from `1,000 to `5,00,000.

This issue has become emotional to a majority of Indians. It would be very imperative if the same mindset and feeling of goodness prevails upon people in protecting other animals and above all human beings. Surprising despite being a law under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, we do not give importance to the life of a human being. Holy cow!

Disclaimer – The views are that of the author and not of the Wockhardt Group. The article is based on extensive research of the author.

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