By Mythili Mishra
“Sentence for killing a cow is five or seven, or 14 years, in different states. But in [the] case of death of a person caused by rash or negligent driving, sentence prescribed in law is only two years,” a Delhi Court order read. As cow protection becomes numero uno on the agenda, an assessment of the cost of human lives in the law becomes pertinent.
Legal protection for cows
As the “Preservation, protection and improvement of stock and prevention of animal diseases, veterinary training and practice” falls under the State List, the regulations vary across India. 24 out of 29 states of India currently have legislation in place prohibiting either the slaughter or sale of cows.
In Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the slaughter of cow, its progeny, as well as bulls and bullocks is completely banned. In Delhi, Goa, Puducherry, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, violation of State laws on cattle slaughter are both cognizable and non-bailable offences. The term of imprisonment varies from six months to fourteen years (lifetime imprisonment) and the fine ranges from Rs 1,000 to Rs 5,00,000.
Politicians have also extended support to the cause. “Pichle 15 saal se ek bhi ghatna aisi nahi hui […] jo maarega usko latka denge (Not a single incident of cow slaughter has taken place in the last 15 years…anyone who does so will be hanged),” said Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh. Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath recently carried out a crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses and cattle smuggling.
While one may face life imprisonment for cow slaughter, marital rape carries no punishment in India.
The alarming rise of cow vigilantism
Protection of cows has become a costly affair. The cost being paid is that of human lives. Cow vigilantism has led to innumerable deaths in the past years. The lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, in 2015, was one such incident. A mob of villagers — under the suspicion that the family was in possession of cow meat — brutally killed the man.
The Hindu has reported nineteen such instances since then. Under mere suspicion of the victim transporting, consuming or possessing beef, the self-proclaimed cow protectors took matters into their own hands and brutally murdered or assaulted individuals, including children.
Recently, Junaid Khan, a Muslim teenager, was stabbed to death on a train, with the mob calling him a “beef-eater” and labelling him as an “anti-national”. This incited the “Not in My Name” protests all over the country. Thousands of protesters took to the streets against the killings of Muslims and Dalits in India. Soon after the protest, the Prime Minister broke his silence on the issue and publicly condemned cow vigilantism.
All of this is despite the fact that consumption of beef has not been criminalised in India. While cattle slaughter is illegal, the beef available in India is buffalo meat, which is legal. However, the protection of cows has become a garb under which minorities are being attacked.
The two communities at the receiving end of this violence are the Muslims and the Dalits.
Bovine love masks anti-Muslim hate
While the cow is not holy in Islam like it is in Hinduism, many Indian Muslims refrain from consumption of cow meat due to its prohibition and as a mark of respect for the Hindu community. The gau rakshaks have still been targeting this community, based on mere suspicion. This has been the case all over the country, from Akhlaq to Junaid. In several instances, it has turned out to be mutton or some other meat. However, even if the meat is later proved to be that of a cow, it gives no right to the citizens to replace the rule of law with mob justice.
The fact is that Muslim identity has been increasingly persecuted under the pretext of them being “anti-national” or “anti-Hindu”, beef-eaters, and insensitive to the Hindu faith. The mob was quick to assume that the meat in possession of Akhlaq or Junaid was beef because it saw them as “Muslim violators” of the “Hindu religion”.
Caste politics: targeting the “lower” castes
Dalits have also borne the brunt of the cow-related violence. Some Dalit communities have been traditionally engaged in occupations such as leather work or the skinning of cattle for their hides or bones. Seen as “impure” and “polluting” for the “upper” caste Hindus, these jobs were reserved for the Dalits.
In Una, Gujarat, Dalits were brutally beaten up by cow vigilantes on the accusation of slaughtering a cow, even though they were merely skinning it post-mortem. The “upper” castes in India are slaughtering Dalits for an occupation that they themselves relegated to the “lowly” community. The livelihoods of Dalits are being threatened, while the rigid caste system ensures that they do not have access to any other occupation.
Beef ban: A cultural attack?
Liberalism is also under siege, with lifestyle choices being deemed illegal. The infamous beef ban, which led to the brutal assault of a PhD scholar in IIT Madras, has threatened to criminalise a way of life. It is deemed to be “food terrorism”. Consumption of beef is a part of Malayali and several North-Eastern cultures. As the Hindi heartland wages war on their languages and cuisines, the people of these cultures will feel increasingly alienated.
The value of a human life has become negligent as compared to that of a cow. In a democracy which boasts of its commitment to human rights, the Constitution has been diluted and the country has gone to the cows — the only creatures that are safe today.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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