In early 2015, a bunch of Indian states banned the slaughter and consumption of cows, which Hindus consider sacred, effectively banning beef in most of the country. A few months later, a Muslim man from Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, Mohammed Akhlaq, was beaten to death on suspicion storing and consuming cow meat thanks to ‘cow vigilantism’.
However, even though it is the most widely reported, cow vigilantism is also not the only major consequence of the beef ban. This blanket ban, which has since been debated and revised, has had an effect on security, yes and on our diet, of course, but it also has an impact on other sectors of the country.
As it turns out, India is the largest exporter (1,850,000 metric tonnes) and 5th largest producer of beef (7% of the world’s beef produce) in the world. While India legally has only 1,623 slaughterhouses, roughly 30,000 Indians are believed to slaughter, sell and consume beef illegally – which makes it a pretty big employment sector too.
Apart from diet and employment, we found that the beef ban is actually restricting us from a bunch of our personal freedoms. Here’s a list.
Article 14: Right To Equality
A quarter of the Indian population – 25.2% to be exact, consists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which include Hindu, Muslim, Christians, North-East Indians, etc. It seems like this section of the population is most affected by the ban. Due to the Hindu prejudice against beef, it has long since been the cheapest meat in India, one that the socio-economically backward people (SC/STs) could easily afford. Even though this group is given entitlements, beef has remained a key part of their diet. Since the ban, not only do they have to incorporate meats like chicken, mutton and fish into their diet that are more expensive than beef to begin with, but also have to deal with a rise in the prices of these meats thanks to the higher demand. All of this makes it harder for them to eat meat. This ban is therefore looked at as a way of further pushing in the fringes groups that are already marginalized in Indian society, the right to equality being pushed further away from them.
Article 21: Right To Life And Liberty
Due to the beef ban, there has been a crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses across the country. Since a lot of the meat (beef and otherwise) actually comes from these illegal slaughterhouses, when they were shut down, meat was unavailable to those who depended on it for food. According to the courts, ‘putting a check on an unlawful activity should simultaneously facilitate the lawful activity’ mainly in the case of food and food habits so that the supply of nutrition is not hampered. This did not happen with the beef ban. As a result, the right to life and liberty, which includes the right to food, is violated.
As of recently, the Supreme Court ruled that the right of privacy was a part of the fundamental right to life and liberty. This clearly includes the right to choose one’s own food. The government made this choice on behave of all beef eating Indians can then also be looked at as an infringement of the right to privacy.
Article 19 (1-G): Right To Practice Any Profession
India’s beef exports and leather sectors seem to be greatly affected thanks to the government’s ban on the trade of cattle for slaughter. The country exported meat worth Rs. 26,000 crore and leather worth Rs. 35,000 crore in 2016-17 with about 35 lakh people are involved in these industries. Now, India faces the possibility of losing all that revenue, something that could negatively affect the economy. All the people working in these industries face unemployment and since a large number of workers in these industries are already migrants or those who belong to backward classes, many of them also face the very real possibility of being pushed into extreme poverty. All this comes down to a large chunk of the Indian population not being allowed the right to practice any profession they want, a right that has been promised to every Indian by the Constitution.
Article 25: Right To Freedom Of Religion
Although the reason for the ban is seemingly the protection of cattle, we can’t ignore the political and religious implications of the ban. In Hinduism, the cow is considered holy and a symbol of prosperity and wealth. The RSS argued that the ban is in effect to protect the religious sentiments of the Hindus, who constitute 80% of the Indian population. Adding to that, many Muslims claim that sacrificing cattle is an integral part of their religion and that the beef ban comes in the way of that. While still to be verified, these arguments prove that the law that prohibits the slaughter and consumption of cows definitely has a religious angle to it, and law and religion should be kept apart in a secular country.
Post the beef ban, the cow has turned into a political agenda for parties to divide and spread hate among beefeaters and non-eaters. The ban has given birth to cow vigilantes who use violence to enforce the ban on people. What’s worse is that instead of protecting the above-mentioned rights of the people of India, the Government has remained silent about the beef ban and the resultant violence.