Banning beef in name of cow protection

The 1995 amendment to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1975, is a clear example of the BJP enacting a law to prevent beef-eating in the guise of a legislation passed with the ostensible objective of protecting slaughter of milk-yielding cattle.

The Bombay High Court struck down that part of the law which criminalized eating beef in private while upholding the Constitutional validity of the law. You can now eat beef at home if it is procured from Goa or from foreign countries where cow and buffalo slaughter is not a crime. Till January 2016, 207 people were prosecuted by the police for lodging or transporting cattle for slaughter. One woman from Goa was harassed at night for carrying pork sausages. The stringent law laid down a jail term of upto 10 years for possessing beef. “This judgment throws up more questions than it answers because although it permits eating beef at home which is brought from outside Maharashtra where slaughtering of cattle is permitted, how can one eat beef at home if a transporter is not allowed to bring it into Maharashtra from states like Goa,” pointed out Waris Pathan, an MLA from Byculla of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. He was one of the petitioners to challenge the beef-ban.

A law is drafted by senior bureaucrats of the law and judiciary department and is vetted by legal experts before it is presented on the floor of the Maharashtra legislative assembly. Hence the bureaucrats and legal experts indirectly told minorities they would be jailed for eating beef at home while the law said something else.The law stated that its aim was to protect milk yielding cattle from being slaughtered for the economic benefit of Maharashtra: but it was intended to legalize a pernicious agenda of criminalizing beef-eating in the privacy of one’s home as well as in restaurants. This is because diabolical laws like the ban on dance bars are enacted as ordinances and then passed without much of a debate unless the Opposition sees an opportunity to embarrass the ruling party.

The aims and objects of this law appear harmless until you read sub-section (e) of section 3 of the Act which states that this law will apply to other animals in the Schedule which the state in its wisdom, may add. This would logically mean that the state can also prevent the slaughter of goats, sheep, poultry and oxen, forcing religious minorities to become vegetarians.

It is true that the high court bench comprising Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Shirish Gupte did not accept another dangerous submission of the state that the right to privacy was not a fundamental right but the bench accepted that the “legislature was the best judge of what is good for the community” and that prohibiting the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks was in the public interest of the economy- and for agriculture-related reasons. This is debatable. Judges are not economists and the Supreme Court has reiterated that courts should not supplant the legislature in deciding what is good for the people, conveniently forgetting that those who are elected to rule for five years want to appease their vote banks even if it negates the fundamental right to eat any food of one’s choice. When the courts reason that the MLAs know best what is good for the people, then justice derived from such laws is pernicious.

By imposing a blanket ban on slaughter of bovines with the scope to add more animals to a long list, the state was dictating to its citizens what they should eat, making a mockery of democracy. Economists have proven that after the beef ban law, the Rs 5,500 crore beef industry in Maharashtra has been badly hit with lakhs of members of the minority Qureshi community rendered jobless. These included about 50,000 persons directly involved in slaughter and 100,000 indirectly employed in tanneries and the leather works industry. Democracy is occasionally a brutal howl of the majority expressed in laws like the ban on dance bars and slaughter of bovines. Justice rendered according to such laws is injustice for those rendered jobless.

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