‘Holy Cow’ and Right-Wing Militant Vegetarianism

By refusing to admit a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), an Andhra Pradesh High Court bench has failed to be sagacious enough to rise up to a situation, dangers of which to communal harmony in the state are not just alarming, but way beyond catastrophic.

The PIL filed by Advocate Ghulam Rabbani had pleaded for what he said “proper implementation” of the Andhra Pradesh Prohibition of Cow Slaughter and Animal Preservation Act, 1977 in view of the upcoming holy festival of Eid-ul-Adha or Bakr Eid, during which Muslims all over the world sacrifice animals as part of their religious obligation.

Informing the court that there was no ‘functional” competent authority to certify the sale of animals as defined in the Act, the petitioner said “anti-social elements” like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) are taking undue advantage of this lacuna to attack Muslims involved in cattle business, especially at the time of the festival.

However, the bench in its response – more technical in nature – asked the petitioner to approach the court only after lodging a complaint with the police. Should the police fail to act, the petitioner can approach the court, the bench ruled.

The court might have acted according to the law of the land but one would have expected the bench to understand the gravity of the situation in the backdrop of recent Muzaffarnagar riots, which claimed at least 50 lives, most of them Muslims, besides the displacement of around forty thousand people from the minority community.

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What started off as a petty incident over a minor motorcycle accident or an eve-teasing incident, according to some accounts, ended up with massive clashes between Muslims and Jat Hindus – first of its kind – in western Uttar Pradesh.

Four politicians, two from Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and one each from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), have been arrested for inciting communal violence – which, according to analysts, was carried out under a well-thought strategy to polarize voters ahead of the general elections due early next year.

Pertinently, the BJP had tasted power for the first time in 1992 only after the cadres of the party along with its front organisations – RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal – carried out the demolition of historic Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. The voters were polarized and the party rose to power on the corpses of thousands of people who died in the riots before and after the infamous Rath yatra.

Similar attempts, according to the various fact-finding commissions, were made in Muzaffarnagar, and there is every probability that these elements would try to repeat it in and around Hyderabad as well.

In this backdrop, the PIL should have been admitted, and the court should have ordered the setting up of an authority that won’t let anyone a) break the law and b) let the right-wing activists take law into their own hands.

The slaughter of cow, according to the Act, is banned but there is a provision for slaughtering animals like bull or bullock provided the owner possesses a ‘fit-for-slaughter’ certificate. The certificate can be given only of the animal is not economical or is not likely to become economical for the purpose of breeding or agricultural operations.

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Describing the double whammy of Muslims, the petitioner said they have to face assaults from right-wingers besides losing animals worth hundreds of thousands of rupees every year before the festival. He said Hindus would sell their animals to Muslims for the purpose of slaughter before the festival in various markets set up across the state. Muslims merchants buy the animals from Hindus after getting a sale deed so that they can resell them at higher prices in other places.

Gau Raksha Samiti  or cow protection militia and police forces stop them on the highways, Rabbani said. “Animals worth lakhs [of rupees] are seized by the police without giving any reason. Besides, the hooligans severely beat up the merchants,” twocircles.net quoted him as saying.

Rabbani, though not the first person to say this, alleged that police also act only against Muslims who are the buyers in this case, sparring Hindu villagers who sell the animals.

“According to the Act, both the buyer and the seller have to be prosecuted, but in all the cases Muslim buyers incur huge losses due to looting of animals in addition to police cases, whereas the Hindu sellers don’t face any action at all,” he alleged.

The cow, as a part of the identity politics of Hindu right-wing organisations, has been used to achieve political dividends many a time since the country got independence from British rule.

Only last year, Hindus and Muslims clashed body parts of an animal were dumped at a religious place. Curfew had to be clamped to keep the situation under control. Even though a fact-finding commission hinted at the involvement of some right-wingers in the dastardly act to incite communal passions, but law-enforcement agencies never bothered to find and prosecute the culprits.

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These right-wing Hindu organisations, taking refuge in the name of protection of cows, have been just harassing fellow Muslims and Dalits. However, the need of the hour is to respect another’s food preference just as much as one prefers to avoid a particular food. Sadly, that has never been the priority of such people in this country.

Victimizing the people from the minority community or the Dalits by taking to militant vegetarianism in the name of ‘revered cow’, who is often spotted either emptying trash bins on roadsides in search of a morsel or leading to traffic jams, will only add to communalism and harm the secular fabric of this diverse country.

Needless to mention, these legislations are, anyway, a direct manipulation of the dietary habits of various sections of people in this country and very much against the country’s commitments to religious tolerance.

Even then, had the government implemented the Act in true letter and spirit, Rabbani said, these Gau Raksha Samiti militias that unleash a “reign of terror”, especially during Eid-ul-Adha will cease to exist and law and order in the state would never be disturbed.



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