It is generating so much heat and so little light. It may be useful to refer to a hilarious story in R.K. Narayan’s book My Dateless Diary in which he refers to a young orthodox Indian, a Gandhian, who goes for study to the U.S. and finds himself in a situation where he has to take to beef-eating. He writes to his mentor that this would solve our country’s entire food problem and we need not then go to America begging for wheat. The young Indian goes to the extent of suggesting to his mentor that beef-eating should be made a national duty. The mentor feels sorry that the student has completely lost touch with the Indian realities. The author concludes that “probably suggesting the eating of beef may not sound abnormal in most parts of the world but in India where the cow is a sacred object and beef cannot be eaten, no rationalisation is even possible on this subject”.
Not in the Constitution
However, the question of the proposed ban on cow slaughter cannot be decided on the basis of a majority section of the Hindu community holding it as a sacred animal. Article 48 of the Constitution is a pivotal section here. It does not ban slaughter of cows which have become useless. In order to protect and promote the cattle wealth of the country, it only says that the state shall endeavour to prohibit the “slaughter of the cows and calves and other milch and drought cattle”. In 1958, the Supreme Court in the Mohd. Hanif Quareshi case (AIR 1958 SC731) had struck the right note when it said that cattle feed shall not be wasted on useless cattle as it would affect the nutrition of the useful ones. But unfortunately, in recent times, in a case from Gujarat reported in 2005 (8) SCC 534, the Supreme Court brought in the idea of cows and bullocks being worshipped by Hindus as justification of a ban on cow slaughter.
The attempted ban is part of a divisive agenda of the majority party to consolidate itself on grounds which are constitutionally not permissible. These are social fault lines which are dogging us. Sensing such tendencies, Parliament thought it appropriate to introduce Chapter 51A, outlining the Fundamental Duties, through the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976. One of the important duties is to develop a scientific temper, humanism and a spirit of inquiry and reform. Can it ever be said that a ban on slaughter of old cattle conforms to this mandate?
Issues like a ban on cow slaughter and ghar wapsi are not harmless acts. They are a part of the cultural agenda of the majority party. A ban on slaughter, if carried to its logical extent, will be dangerous and create a state within a state. It will not only be undemocratic but also seditious. The Constitution calls for a more tolerant and pluralistic approach.
N.G.R. Prasad is an advocate at the Madras High Court