The enactment of the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2020, is part of a policy to silently destroy cattle wealth through anti-slaughter laws. Already, 21 states have banned cow-slaughter..With the enactment of the new Bill, the lives of Karnataka’s diverse indigenous breeds are at stake and the dairy and draught livelihoods of farmers, the food and nutrition rights of beef consumers and an entire stream of livelihoods are under threat. This is not about cow protection, but advancing the project of One Nation-One Religion, undermining India’s constitutional commitments to being a secular State, writes SAGARI R RAMDAS.
With the enactment of the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2020, the state is set to join a growing list of states which are silently destroying their cattle wealth through the diligent implementation of anti-slaughter laws aimed at preserving cows and their progeny.
India’s 20th Livestock Census published in 2019 bears witness to this and provides us with concrete evidence of the devastation underway.
Tightening cattle slaughter laws from 2015 in states where the BJP came to power, coupled with terror unleashed via cow vigilantism which consistently targets Dalits, Muslims and Adivasis has ironically resulted in a colossal decline in cattle populations in the cow-belt states. In particular, there has been a huge drop in indigenous cattle-breed populations, particularly the holy humped Bos indicus.
Criminalising Slaughter and Beef Consumption
Twenty-two states have across the board banned cow-slaughter since the enactment of state animal preservation laws, which commenced in the 1950s.
The project of criminalising slaughter and beef consumption across the country has insidiously intensified over the decades, state after state under various political patronage.
For instance, it was not until 1976 that cow slaughter was banned in Tamil Nadu via an ordinance. Similarly, it was only in 1979 that Haryana banned the transportation of cattle out of the state to states which have no slaughter bans.
Twenty-two states have had across the board bans on cow-slaughter since the enactment of state animal preservation laws, which commenced in the 1950s. The project of criminalising slaughter and beef consumption across the country has insidiously intensified over the decades, state after state under various political patronage.
The states of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, formed in 2000, enacted stringent anti-slaughter laws and these were far exceeding their “mother states”–Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh respectively.
The foremost difference pre-and post-2014 has been the aggressive determination of the current political dispensation to standardise, expand and create uniform anti-slaughter state laws so as to ensure total and foolproof criminalisation of slaughter and beef consumption across the country.
States which allowed male cattle slaughter with so-called “fit for slaughter certificates” amended their laws to ban slaughter of bulls and bullocks (Maharashtra, 2015).
States which continued to allow beef consumption and trade outlawed beef consumption (Maharashtra, 2015), and proscribed beef in containers imported into the state (Haryana, 2015). Gujarat in 2017, Rajasthan in 2019 and Uttar Pradesh in 2020 brought in clauses enabling confiscation and surrendering to the government the vehicle found transporting animals allegedly bound for slaughter.
Maharashtra in 2015 banned the export and transportation of animals for slaughter outside the state.
States substantively enhanced punitive actions: Haryana in 2015 extended imprisonment up to 10 years and fines up to Rs 1 lakh;
Maharashtra in 2015 increased imprisonment to five years.
Rajasthan way back in 1995 already had imprisonment up to 10 years. UP enhanced its imprisonment similarly to 10 years in 2020.
Gujarat decided to lead the way and amended its act in 2017 to life imprisonment.
From Bailable to Non-bailable
States such as Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra have had the clause of “burden of proof on the accused to prove they have not committed the offence” since they were legislated, and where they were bailable offences, the act was amended to make them non-bailable (Gujarat, 2017; Maharashtra, 2015).
The second crucial change under the current political regime has been the harsh enforcement of what has already been written into law. Apart from all else, practically every state law has included from its inception a clause granting powers to enter and inspect: “For the purposes of this Act, the Competent Authority or any person authorised in writing in this behalf by the Competent Authority (hereinafter referred to as the authorised person) shall have the power to enter and inspect any premises where the Competent Authority or the authorised person has reason to believe that an offence under this Act has been or is likely to be, committed.”
States substantively enhanced punitive actions: Haryana in 2015 extended imprisonment up to 10 years and fines up to Rs 1 lakh; Maharashtra in 2015 increased imprisonment to five years. Rajasthan way back in 1995 already had imprisonment up to 10 years. UP enhanced its imprisonment similarly to 10 years in 2020. Gujarat amended its act in 2017 to life imprisonment.
The latter is Section 7(1) from the Bombay Animal Preservation Act, 1954–the precursor to current laws in Maharashtra and Gujarat. This clause, in effect, authorises and gives powers of vigilantism to roaming bands of gau rakshaks to stop, halt, inspect and report. Political backing and protection provide them the violent power to lynch.
Census Tells the Real Story
Livestock Census 2019 is a reality check and confirms the centrality of slaughter to sustain the cattle species, which farmers have clearly chosen to stop rearing as they cannot dispose of unproductive animals due to slaughter bans.
From 2012-2019, the indigenous cattle population across India declined by six percent with males (bulls, bullocks) plunging by 41%, nearly a doubling of the previous five years (2007-2012 (-23%).
While male cattle populations have been falling since the onset of mechanisation in agriculture (tractors replacing draught animals) in the mid 1980s, the past five years has seen the maximum drop in male cattle numbers since India’s first livestock census post-independence in 1951.
Meanwhile, indigenous cow populations increased by 9% as compared to a 32% increase in cross-bred cows, the main breed for cow milk.
Data confirms the impact of slaughter laws and vigilantism where states with maximum bans have shown (i) maximum declines in male cattle, (ii) decreased growth of cows and (iii) significant increases in stray cattle populations as compared to states like Kerala and West Bengal with no slaughter bans.
A marginal increase of total male cattle population in Punjab (+1.4%) from 2007-2012 and declines in Haryana, (-4.7%), Gujarat (-8%), Rajasthan (-10%), Maharashtra (-11%) and Uttar Pradesh (-35%) showed five-six times higher slump from 2012-2019 when it was as follows–Haryana (-26%), Maharashtra (-31%), Rajasthan (-34%), Gujarat (-38%), Uttar Pradesh (-58%) and Punjab (-61%).
Maharashtra’s rich beef food cultures and associated post-slaughter wealth of cattle skin, hide and leather have been central towards sustaining cattle populations. Once banned, the sustainable cycle of production it supported, collapsed, and farmers stopped rearing cattle.
The same states have shown a significantly lower percentage (+9 to 18%) increase in cows in the period 2012-2019, as compared to 2007-2012 (+3 to 52%), whereas West Bengal has a +32% increase in its cow population in 2012-2019. Stray cattle population increased, ranging from +15% to +100%, with several states clearly under-reporting them.
The Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976 (as amended in 1995) received presidential assent on March 4, 2015.
The purported object behind this Amendment “an act to provide for the prohibition of slaughter and preservation of cows, bulls and bullocks, useful for milch, breeding, draught or agricultural purposes” was to enhance the cattle population of Maharashtra so that agriculturalists and farmers may be able to more effectively use the cattle for milch, draught and breeding purposes.
Five years after that amendment, it is crystal clear that as anticipated, the Act served to destroy Maharashtra’s diverse cattle economy.
Maharashtra’s rich beef food cultures and associated post-slaughter wealth of cattle skin, hide and leather has been central towards sustaining cattle populations and are the basis for the re-sale value of unproductive animals.
Once banned, the sustainable cycle of production it supported, collapsed, and farmers stopped rearing cattle. It also once again points to the internal contradiction of Article 48 in the Directive Principles of State Policy, which erroneously targets slaughter as an obstruction to animal preservation, but in fact is central to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and in particular, for preserving and improving the breeds.
The writing is on the wall for Karnataka, which has brought in identical amendments in its recent act and more. The lives of its diverse indigenous breeds from the majestic Amrit Mahal to the fast-footed Hallikar, the nimble Malnadgidda and the sturdy Khillari are clearly at stake with its enactment, not to mention buffaloes which anchor dairying.
The dairy and draught livelihoods of farmers, the food and nutrition rights of beef consumers and an entire stream of livelihoods post-slaughter are under threat.
This is not about cow protection, but about the cow being central to advance the project of One Nation-One Religion, undermining India’s constitutional commitments to being a secular State.
(SAGARI R RAMDAS is a veterinary scientist at Food Sovereignty Alliance, India. The views expressed are personal. )