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BRP Bhaskar: Stage set for more social strife
May 30, 2017
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

 
The Narendra Modi government’s attempt to regulate cattle markets across the country appears to be a thinly disguised project to promote the Hindutva agenda of cow slaughter ban through the back door.

Last week the Environment Ministry, which oversees animal welfare, issued a notification imposing stringent conditions on the sale of cattle. While it does not prohibit cow slaughter, it forbids sale of cows, bulls, steers, heifers, buffaloes and camels at animal markets for slaughter.

India had edged past Brazil two years ago to become the world’s largest meat exporter. Last year meat production exceeded Rs 1,300 billion, and beef exports totalled Rs 263 billion.

Since the meat industry gets 90 per cent of its requirements from animal markets the regulations are bound to hit the farmers as well as the meat sellers.

Orthodox Hindus of the Vedic school profess to vegetarianism but the Vedas and other early texts testify that their ancestors ate different kinds of meat, including beef.

Hindus constitute 79.80 per cent of India’s population. However, according to the findings of a recent official survey, only 28 per cent of Indians are vegetarians.

Since some sections venerate the animal, cow slaughter became an issue of contention in the closing stages of the colonial period. In a concession to them, a provision was included in the Directive Principles of the Constitution permitting the state governments to take steps to prohibit the slaughter of milch and draught cattle.

Most states have already enacted legislation to prohibit slaughter of milch cows. However, Kerala, West Bengal and the north-eastern states have not done so.

Since Modi became the Prime Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party started picking hard-core Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh activists as chief ministers, cow vigilantes have gone on the rampage in several states, attacking and killing Muslims and Dalits.

Mohammad Akhlaq of Dadri in Uttar Pradesh and Pahlu Khan, a dairy farmer of Alwar in Rajasthan were lynched to death. Dalit youths were thrashed at Una in Gujarat while skinning a dead cow. In all these instances, the BJP protected the criminals and pressured the police into instituting false cases against the victims and their families.

Under the newly notified rules, which are to be enforced within three months, only farmland owners can buy or sell cattle at animal markets. Both the seller and the buyer have to prove their identities and establish their status as farm owners. The seller has to obtain an understanding from the buyer that the animals are not for slaughter.

The rules have laid down cumbersome procedures which farmland owners with little education cannot easily cope with.

The government claimed that the rules had been prepared in compliance with a directive the Supreme Court had given in a recent judgement to improve the condition of animals in the markets. Political observers believe it used the opportunity to extend the Hindutva’s cow agenda and fear it may lead to more attacks on Muslims and Dalits.

While most opposition parties and state governments under their control were muted in their response to the Centre’s action, Kerala Chief Minister and Communist Party of India-Marxist Politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan roundly condemned it as an attempt to implement the RSS agenda. In a letter to the Prime Minister he said the rules were impractical.

Youth wings of the CPI-M and the Congress conducted beef festivals at many places in the state to demonstrate their resolve to resist interference in the people’s food habits.

The constitutional validity of the new Central rules is bound to be challenged in the courts. Many legal experts are of the view that the courts are liable to strike down as they go beyond the purview of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act under which they have been issued.

The economic and social consequences of the rules may be more disastrous than the political fallout. Inability to sell cattle which have outlived their utility will upset the fragile economy of farming families which is already driving them to suicide in large numbers.

Some critics feel the government’s real objective is to put an end to the traditional cattle markets and clear the path for big business interests to enter the trade.

The new rules may embolden Hindutva elements to intensify attacks on the minorities and the Dalits, leading to increased social strife. The emergence of the Bhim Army at Saharanpur in UP is a sign of growing Dalit resistance to Hidutva violence.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning
 

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