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India: Mad Cow Disease Strikes - Shutting of Meat shops and Lynch mobs at work in the name of Cow protection - Selected Editorial commentary

7 April 2017

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(Selected editorial commentary from the Indian Media in march and early April 2017)

  • Going overboard with cow protection (livemint)
  • Whether in UP or Northeast, BJP should not dictate people’s eating habits (Hindustan Times)
  • Man slaughter (The Indian Express)
  • Barbarism unlimited: On ’cow protection’ and Alwar attack (The Hindu)
  • Murder in Alwar: Dairy farmer Pehlu Khan becomes the latest casualty of cow vigilantism (The Times of India)
  • Cow is an excuse - Rajasthan murder more than a vigilante action (The Tribune) - 4 April 2017


Going overboard with cow protection

Draconian punishments add to the irrationality of cow slaughter bans that burden farmers who own cattle and beef bans that attack citizens’ constitutional rights

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar had attracted the ire of traditionalists when he wrote more than once that the cow is not a divine mother but only a useful animal. “A substance is edible to the extent that it is beneficial to man. Attributing religious qualities to it gives it a godly status. Such a superstitious mindset destroys the nation’s intellect,” he wrote in 1935.

Recent events have not been a good advertisement for the national intellect. The party that pays homage to Savarkar has never come to terms with his modernist rationalism. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Gujarat has amended a state law so that anybody found guilty of cow slaughter will be awarded a life sentence. The chief minister of Chhattisgarh has said that those who kill cows in his state will be hanged. Even acts of homicide or sexual assault do not usually result in the hanging of the guilty.

Meanwhile, there is a massive crackdown on abattoirs by the new state government in Uttar Pradesh, ostensibly targeted at illegal establishments, but clearly trying to hurt the Muslim community that dominates the meat trade. Congress leaders such as Digvijaya Singh have said his party will back a nationwide beef ban—a useful reason to remember that the original laws against cow slaughter were introduced in many states when the Congress was the hegemonic force in Indian politics. This also opens up the possibility of competitive cow politics. And footloose vigilantes have taken it upon themselves to attack any person they believe is harming the sanctity of the cow, even by just throwing a stone at an animal.

There have traditionally been two main arguments in favour of cow protection. First, the cow is the pivot of an agricultural economy. Second, it is central to Hindu religious beliefs. Neither of these two arguments can justify the harsh punishments that are rather casually being talked about.

The economic argument does not survive an empirical test. First, as farming in India becomes increasingly mechanized, the demand for draught cattle in the fields is falling. Second, as milk-producing cows grow old and become unproductive, they become a financial burden on farmers. If farmers cannot sell them off to slaughterhouses, they either abandon the animals or starve them to death.

Third, the rational response by farmers to the ban on cow slaughter has been to prefer buffaloes to cows, as is evident from both the official cattle census as well as price trends in cattle auctions across the country. The economics of an asset totally changes when its terminal value suddenly comes down to zero. Economists such as V.M. Dandekar and K.N. Raj showed many years ago that the factors determining cattle population are not slaughter bans or religious sentiments but the demand for livestock products such as milk and meat as well as the levels of technology used in agriculture.

Indeed, the directive principle of state policy that says cow slaughter should be prohibited is itself derived from the economic argument. Article 48 of the Indian Constitution needs to be read in full: “The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.”

The issue of religious sentiments is a more tricky one. There is ample proof in old religious texts that beef-eating was not uncommon in ancient India. However, that does not necessarily mean that the current generation of Hindus should not worship the cow. There is also the undeniable fact that cow slaughter was one of the flashpoints in medieval India under Muslim rule. The real issue right now is that the state has no right to send someone to jail for killing an animal.

It is also important to remember that beef is one of the cheapest sources of protein. Some 80 million Indians eat either beef or buffalo meat, including 12.5 million Hindus, as shown in an article by Roshan Kishore and Ishan Anand in this newspaper in October 2015, based on their detailed analysis of sample data.

This does not mean that devout Hindus who worship the cow should not voluntarily devote themselves to its protection by setting up gaushalas, or cow shelters, though there simply aren’t enough of these to cater to the growing number of abandoned cattle. The problem lies elsewhere. Bans on the killing of cows are in effect a burden on farmers who own cattle. Punishment for consumption of beef is an attack on the basic Constitutional right of every citizen to live the life she wants to.

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Hindustan Times, March 28, 2017


Whether in UP or Northeast, BJP should not dictate people’s eating habits

A closed meat shop in Ghaziabad. The sooner this issue of illegal abattoirs and meat consumption is resolved, the quicker both UP and other states can get on with the real and far more important task of development (Sakib Ali/HT Photo)

The BJP’s clarification that there would be no beef ban in the three northeastern states which go the polls next year if the party were to come to power is welcome but given what is happening on the meat issue in Uttar Pradesh where the it won handsomely, raises some questions. The assurance is based on the fact that the Christian majority in Meghalaya,Mizoram and Nagaland eat beef but for the party to employ different yardsticks for different communities and different states is questionable. The Muslims too have no taboos about eating beef but this is not permitted in many states including UP where meat sellers in general are facing problems from over-zealous vigilantes and the police. If the premise on the part of the Hindutva brigade is that the cow is sacred and, therefore, cannot be slaughtered, geographical location and eating habits should not make a difference. But the more reasonable thing to do for the party which is on the ascendant would be to leave well alone when it comes to people’s eating habits.

Across India, minorities and even some Hindus eat beef though many states do not permit cow slaughter. By and large, in the north, the beef consumed is that of the buffalo but that too is under attack today. India’s vast tribes and communities have differing and eclectic eating habits and to try and impose a cookie cutter prototype on them would amount to depriving them of their fundamental rights. The northeastern states going to the polls will be keenly observing the problems that meat eaters and sellers are facing in UP where not just illegal abattoirs but legal ones too are facing problems leading to a protest from traders. The trade benefits both Hindus and Muslims and in states like the northeast, Kerala and Goa the Christians as well.

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The Indian Express - April 7, 2017


Man slaughter

The lynch mob can get away with it, in the name of the cow. That’s the message from Vasundhara Raje’s Rajasthan

Speaking at a public event in August 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had condemned cow vigilantism. They were anti-social elements, he said, who had set up shop in the name of the cow. At that time, it had seemed that the PM’s rebuke, entirely welcome, had come a little late. In July, the flogging of Dalits in Una by a group of gau rakshaks had sparked anger and outrage across the country. A year earlier, in September 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched at Dadri on the suspicion of storing beef. The incidents at Dadri and Una had deepened fears that the BJP’s large electoral victory in 2014 had emboldened those lumpens who would use gau raksha as a cover for taking the law into their own hands, against Muslims or Dalits. Even though belated, the PM’s reprimand last year held out the assurance that such violence and vigilantism would not go unchecked. Now, the attack by gau rakshaks on a group of men on National Highway 8 in the Behror area of Alwar last week is a reminder that his message is not being heeded and respected by a government led by his own party.

By all accounts, the Vasundhara Raje-led government in Rajasthan has much to answer for in the incident at Alwar, in which a group of Muslim men was accosted and assaulted by a band of gau rakshaks — one of them, Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer, died later — for allegedly smuggling cows for slaughter. The police arrived late at the scene of the crime. As this paper has reported, even though the victims had receipts to show they had purchased the cows, it was quick to register FIRs against them for illegally transporting cattle for slaughter under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal Act 1995. It is yet to show similar alacrity or efficiency in nabbing all the accused and moving against them under the IPC. On Wednesday, Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria claimed that “both sides are at fault” — in effect, and in a grotesque parody of his own responsibility as a minister, blaming the victims.

The Rajasthan government must be held answerable for the incident at Alwar, for the apparent climate of impunity in which such an attack became possible. But there is a wider accountability, too. It is bizarre that Union minister of state for parliamentary affairs and minorities Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi all but denied the incident in Rajya Sabha on Thursday. It does not behove the governments, at the Centre and in the state, to do anything less than accept the enormity of the outrage and commit that the guilty would be brought to book. Tragically, this basic assurance of a constitutional democracy — that action would be taken in accordance with the law against vigilantism of any kind — seems imperilled in a climate in which BJP chief ministers, in UP, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat, compete with each other to sound more muscular and to bring in the more draconian legislation on the cow.

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The Hindu - April 07, 2017


Barbarism unlimited: On ’cow protection’ and Alwar attack

A man has been murdered by cow vigilantes. The murderers must be brought to book

The death of a man from injuries at the hands of “cow protection” vigilantes in Rajasthan’s Alwar district rightly animated Parliament. The details of the violence inflicted by a mob on Saturday are chilling and vividly caught on mobile phone video, and demand an assurance from the government that justice will be done. It is unfortunate that as the opposition raised the issue, the response from the treasury benches was anything but satisfactory. In fact, coupled with comments from spokespersons of the BJP and even the Rajasthan Home Minister, the message from the authorities indicates that an outrageous equivalence is being sought to be made between the lynch mob’s actions and the victims’ alleged — simply “alleged” — actions. The facts are these. Pehlu Khan, the deceased, and four others were on their way back to Haryana after buying cattle in Jaipur. A mob set itself upon them in Behror on the Jaipur-Delhi National Highway. The violence was explained as an attempt to prevent the “illegal” transportation of cattle. Instead of condemning the violence and stating that nobody has the right to attack individuals no matter what they may and may not have been doing, all that has emanated from ministers at the Centre and in Rajasthan is evasive prevarication. State Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria said no one had the right to take the law into his own hands, but added it was “all right” that those illegally moving cattle were nabbed. In the Rajya Sabha, Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi implied that no incident of such cow vigilantism had occurred.

Over the last three years, governments in different States, most of them ruled by the BJP, have tightened existing laws against cow slaughter. It is no accident that the period has been attended by an aggressive vigilantism. From the killing of a man in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh in 2015 on suspicion that he had beef in his possession, to the flogging of a group of Dalit men who were skinning a dead cow in Una in Gujarat last year, cow vigilantes, in the guise of being gau rakshaks, have created an atmosphere of fear. It is disturbing that legislative initiatives and mob violence have been moving in step. It is also true that while distancing organisations of the Sangh Parivar from the incidents, individuals affiliated to these organisations, including the BJP, have played down the instances of violence by focussing on how the alleged crimes had offended believers. And in this constant din of pledging support to the larger effort to protect the cow, there is little official deliberation on the actual implementation of anti-cow slaughter laws, let alone a recognition of the incentives these laws create for the illegal movement of animals across jurisdictions. By failing to condemn lynch mobs for murder and bring vigilantes to book, the government only diminishes Indian democracy.

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The Times of India April 7, 2017


Murder in Alwar: Dairy farmer Pehlu Khan becomes the latest casualty of cow vigilantism

When an elderly dairy farmer, returning home with a cow purchased in Jaipur, is beaten up so brutally by an Alwar mob that he can’t survive the injuries, there can be no justification for his murder. Yet, the death of Pehlu Khan was followed by Rajasthan home minister Gulab Chand Kataria intoning, “The problem is from both the sides. People know cow trafficking is illegal but they do it. Gau bhakts try to stop those who indulge in such crimes.” This is dangerously false equivalence. Identifying and punishing crimes is the job of police. In any case there isn’t much evidence that Khan was a cow trafficker. Rajasthan government should severely punish his murderers instead of valorising them as gau bhakts.

During the discussion on the incident in Rajya Sabha yesterday, parliamentary affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi spoke about being “sensitive” to the “emotions” of crores of people. But after a murder, facts have to take priority over emotions and hysteria if India is to have a semblance of good governance. India is the largest producer of milk in the world, with around 85% of its dairy workforce being small farm holders. This necessarily involves buying, selling, transporting milch animals. If this transporting is endangered it hurts the dairy, leather and allied businesses which employ millions of people – alongside social harmony.

If in one place an administration is seen to be either passive or supportive of cow vigilantism, it will stoke similar fires elsewhere in the country. Signs are already ominous from Dadri and Una to Alwar. Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman speaks of gau raksha being part of the Indian freedom struggle. But what about the bigger legacy of ahimsa and justice? It’s these inheritances that Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje must champion.

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The Tribune, 9 April 2017


Cow is an excuse - Rajasthan murder more than a vigilante action

ANOTHER vigilante action, another Muslim dead. This time in Rajasthan. But the beating of five persons transporting milch cows, leading to the death of a 55-year-old man, Pehlu Khan, was not surprising even if it was shocking. Circumstances of the case make it obvious that it was not part of any attempt to prevent smuggling of cows. It was an assault on a particular religious identity. For one, anyone familiar with cattle — especially those who claim to be passionately devoted to it — should be able to tell condemned cattle from a milch cow, as was the case here. Then, the man who died had documents to show he purchased the cows for milk as he ran a dairy. The more pertinent bit, however, is that one Hindu driver was let off by the gang, even though he was as much a part of the crew transporting the cattle.

The disturbing aspect is that this is not an action of “fringe elements”, if there is still any distinction to be made within the communal monolith called the “Sangh”. The police were as quick as the “gau rakshaks” to accuse the cattle buyers of being smuggles, and booked them too without even preliminary inquiries. The Rajasthan Home Minister defended the police action, and even the need for “gau rakshaks” to prevent cattle smuggling. Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said in the Rajya Sabha that the incident had been misreported. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the BJP to deny that it supports such vigilante action, given the systematic persecution of meat traders in certain states. UP has also seen “anti-Romeo squads” and instructions for teachers on how to dress “decently”.

The fast evolving cultural tyranny needs to be recognised for what it is — a devious ploy at sustaining animosity on communal lines. The motives for this are as much political as a sincere faith in a medieval ideology, not very different from the extreme Islamic intrusion seen in all public institutions in Pakistan. Unless this is understood, and no less than the top leadership of the BJP moves to put a stop to the moral policing, the consequences also may be very similar to as in Pakistan.


The above editorials from the Indian Press are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use