March 19, 2015 By Jenny Rowena

Cow is a Secular Animal


It was in 1976 that the Maharashtra Government banned cow slaughter through the “State Animal Protection Act.”The BJP-Shiv Sena faction that came to power in 1995 amended this act by prohibiting the slaughter of oxen and bullocks along with the cow. It was this amendment that was sanctioned by President Pranab Mukherjee recently. Butthe print and visual media and even new media articles are going on and on about the prohibition of ‘cow slaughter’ in Maharashtra, when what has now been newly prohibited is only the slaughter of oxen and bullocks. Even Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadvinas tweeted: “Thanks a lot honourable President sir for the assent on Maharashtra Animal Preservation Bill. Our dream of ban on cow-slaughter becomes reality now,”But the truth is that Fadnavis’s dream had come true in 1976itself!

Surely this recent ban on the slaughter of bullocks would lead to various socio-economic problems and bring immense hardship to those involved in the trade. However, instead of looking at the reality of the situation and discussing the specific problems that it creates, everyone is busy talking about how ‘cow slaughter’has been banned. Lost in such a discussion are two things. 1. Almost all the states of India, except Kerala, West Bengal and the northeastern states have State legislations, which specifically and clearly ban cow slaughter. Both Kerala and West Bengal have legislations on slaughter of animals though they do not specifically ban cow slaughter. 2. Article 48 in the Indian Constitutionprovides the loophole, which has been used to ban cow slaughter in so many states ruled by non-BJP governments.

Even when most articles and opinion pieces do provide these facts, we are still fed by a secular discourse that is shocked at the extreme Hindu politics of BJP, which is supposed to be behind all cow slaughter. Thus the soft Hindu politics, which runs through the original legislation (and Indian politics), is hardly debated. In fact, a closer look will show how the sentiment against cow slaughter is part and parcel of Indian secularism itself.

In his The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why They Became Untouchables? Dr BR Ambedkar argues that the Brahmins who now worship cows had once killed cows and hadalso consumed its flesh. However, when Buddhism came up and exhorted everyone to show kindness to all animals (including humans), the Brahmins suddenly turned vegetarian and started worshipping cows.  This according to Dr Ambedkar wasa strategy of the Brahmins to morally vanquish the Buddhists. Ambedkar also talked of how those who continued to eat cow flesh even after the banning of cow was ostracized as ‘untouchables.’ Here, Dr Ambedkar, very clearly shows us the link between the cow and the caste system.  Seen in such a way, the cow is neither a religious, agricultural or cultural symbol, but very clearly a caste symbol, which was used to secure the power and domination of Brahminism and the caste system. Surely this was why the 19th century Hindu reform movements,conducted bythe Brahmins,re-used the cow as a significantpolitical symbol. In fact, ‘Hindu’ reform movements like the Arya Samaj in UP and Gujarat and early reformers like Bal Gangadhar Tilakin Maharashtra started their political activities by setting up Cow Protection forums.

However,unlike before,these movements worked neither against Buddhism nor against the untouchables. Instead, they moved against the Muslim population in the Indian subcontinent. As studies have shown, (David Hardiman, ShabnumTejani) suddenly the Muslims were seen as outsiders who introduced ‘cow slaughter’ to an India, which was imagined as a place of Hindus, who were centrally symbolized by their reverence for the cow. This propaganda was in spite of the fact that ‘cow slaughter’ was banned in the Mughal period.  This false propaganda of the Brahmin reformers led to wide spread ‘Hindu’-Muslim riots in north India, in the late 19th century, starting from UP and extending up to Maharashtra in the South. Through this propaganda,the so-called Hindu reform movements were actually reinventing and reorganizing Brahminism as modern Hinduism. They were trying to create a new socio-religious identity called ‘Hindu,’ which was built against the Muslim as the cow-slaughtering ‘other’ even as they tried to appropriate the lower castes and Dalits into their fold, so as to increase their own power and strength.

These (anti-Muslim) perceptions founded on the power structure of caste,laid the foundations of Gandhian politics too. Like the Brahmin reformers, Gandhi also held that the cow was central to the Hindu religion. He is reported to have said in 1927: “As for me, not even to win Swaraj, will I renounce my principle of cow protection.”So when the Constituent Assembly was formed, with a majority of Gandhians in it, it is not too surprising that they wanted cow protection to be part of the Fundamental Rights provided in the constitution. Dr Ambedkar, who was the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly and who surely saw through the politics ofcow protection, dismissed the demand arguing that fundamental rights were for humans and not animals. But he could not put an end to the discussion on cow slaughter. Thus he was forced to subsume it under the Directive Principles of State policy. This was how Article 48 of the Constitutionwas born.

Article 48 states that the States should “organize agriculture and animal husbandryon modern and scientific lines” and yet without providing any ‘scientific’ reason for the same it also asks the States to “take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.”However, the bill is silent about other animals such as the buffalo, hen, sheep, etc.

Dr Shraddha Chigateri, who has closely studied Article 48 and looked at the way it influences constitutional secularism in India, in her “Negotiating the Sacred Cow, Cow Slaughter and the Regulation of Difference in India”considers this article as a “double move.”Chigateri feels that this article and the debates surrounding it reflect “Hindu sentiment while purportedly notdoing so.”Surely it must have been because of an awareness of such a “double move” that Zahirul Hasan Lari, a Muslim League leader from UP, made the following remarks in theconstitutional assembly, while debating Article 48:

“Mr Vice-Presdent, I appreciate the sentiments of those who want protection of the cow – may be on religious grounds or maybe in the interests of agriculture in this country. …The House, at the same time, must appreciate that Mussalmans of India have been, and are, under the impression that they can, without violence to the principles, which govern the State, sacrifice cows and other animals on the occasion of Bakrid. It is for the majority to decide one way or the other. We are not here to obstruct the attitude that the majority community is going to adopt. But let there not linger an idea in the mind of the Muslim public that they can do one thing, though in fact they are not expected to do that. The result has been, as I know in my own Province on the occasion of the last Bakrid, so many orders under Section 144 in various places, districts and cities. The consequence has been the arrests of many, molestation of even more, and imprisonment of some. Therefore, if the House is of the opinion that slaughter of cows should be prohibited, let it be prohibited in clear, definite and unambiguous words. I do not want that there should be a show that you could have this thing although the intention may be otherwise. My own submission to this house is that it is better to come forward and incorporate a clause in Fundamental Rights that cow slaughter is henceforth prohibited, rather than it being left vague in the Directive Principles, leaving it open to Provincial Governments to adopt it one way or the other, and even without adopting definite legislation to resort to emergency powers under the Criminal Procedure. In the interests of good-will in the country and of cordial relations between the different communities I submit that this is the proper occasion when the majority should express itself clearly and definitely.” (24th November, 1948, Constitutional Assembly Debates.)

But the article was passed with the same ambiguity and without the clarity that Zahirul Hasan Larihad asked for. So, though both Nehru and Indira Gandhi were against such a ban, most Indian states went on preventing cow slaughter using the same Article. When such a prohibition was questioned in 1959, as in the case of Mohd. HanifQuareshi& Others vs The State Of Bihar, the Supreme Court declared that the ban on cow slaughter in UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh was constitutionally valid.  In all the other cases that questioned similar bans in other states, barring in one case, the Supreme Court verdict was similar. In fact, Shraddha Chigateri concludes her study by arguing that if Indian secularism is to be saved, Article 48 and the laws on cow slaughter should be removed.

However, this is not just the problem of Article 48. This is, rather, a problem of modern secularism, which always gives a central position to one particular religion,even as it professes to accept (or reject) all religions in a given society. Moreover, secularism is also a process, which blinds us to the workings of the dominant religion; even when in India this religion is actually caste. Constructed as we are within the ‘secular’ caste Hindu nation, we are able to recognize only the so-called ‘Hindu’ agenda of the BJP. When the same thing that the BJP is now falsely claiming to have done — the prevention of cow slaughter –was carried out by secular forces, it did not threaten anyone. So we blame it all on the BJP and refuse to look back at our history or question the problematic foundations on which this nation rests.

Actually, the BJP’s present use of the‘cow-slaughter’ discourse is just to increase its appeal in a nation, which already has largely stopped the slaughter and consumption of cows because the caste Hindu system prohibits it. In fact, news and information is spreading in such a way that somehow everyone is knowingly or unknowingly playing along with the BJP and its tricks.

In short, we have today become a kind of people who start to speak about the banning of ‘cow slaughter’ in shock when it is actually the slaughter of bulls and bullocks that is being prohibited. We do not even want to recognize that we are living in a nation where cow-slaughter is legally banned in almost all of its parts. The cow becomes a religious symbol, which threatens our secularism only when a party that falsely emphasizes religion, pretends to ban it. By all other means, the cow remains a secular animal.



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