COW SLAUGHTER, RELIGION AND THE CONSTITUTION

COW SLAUGHTER, RELIGION AND THE CONSTITUTION

Author: Milind Rajratnam,

2nd Year,
Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.
COW SLAUGHTER, RELIGION AND THE CONSTITUTION

Article 48 of the Indian Constitution states that the State shall endeavor to preserve and improve the breeds, and prohibit the slaughter of cow including calves, milch and other draught cattle1 . Although the ban was intended to be an economical measure but now it has taken a religious front. Out of 29 states, 24 states have ban on sale or slaughter of cow2.

The issue of cow slaughter is a heated topic of debate since the framing of the constitution. Many members of the constituent assembly were in favor to include it as a fundamental right but due to the conflict between the religious sentiments of the Hindus and the use of cattle for various business purposes, it was included in the DPSPs.
The reason why Article 48 was formulated was that the Indian economy primarily depended on agriculture and the fear of drought could not be eliminated. And in that situation, dairy farming was the best alternative available keeping in mind the value of products these animals offer to us in case of paucity of food and also it was a good way to accommodate villages in the Indian economy without converting them into cities.

INTERPRETATION OF CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS

Article 48. 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.3

By the bare reading of this provision, we can get that it has given importance not only to cow but also to other milch, draught cattles and calves. The reason for such importance in the Constitution as well as Hinduism is due to the value of products we get from cow. Also, it is a better way to accommodate villages in the Indian economy without converting them into cities. Article 48 can therefore be said to be based on Gandhian Principle as Gandhi Ji believed that the soul of India lies in villages.

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Hon’ble Supreme Court has interpreted Article 48 in Mohammed Hanif Quareshi vs. State of Bihar4 and stated that a total ban on the slaughter of cows and calves is valid but the ban on the slaughter of animals which have ceased to be draught or milch, is not in public interest and therefore invalid. But in the case of State of Gujrat vs. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat5 , the Quareshi judgement was overruled and it was held that an effective total ban on the slaughter of cow and its progeny is valid, on the ground that a cow and its progeny never become useless even after they cease to breed, to work or to give milk as it still continues to give dung for fuel, biogas and manure.

Article 51-A (g). It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.6

The concept of compassion for living creatures enshrined in Article 51-A is based on the rich cultural heritage of India. A cattle which has served human beings all his life is entitled to compassion in its old age when it has ceased to be milch or draught.7 In T.N. Godavarman Thirumalpad vs. Union of India & Ors8, the SC held that, today the state and citizens are under a fundamental obligation to protect and improve the environment, including forest, lakes, rivers, wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.

Article 25 (1). Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.9

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It was held by the SC that slaughter of cows could not be considered as an essential religious requirement.10 Slaughtering of cows on Bakr Id is not an essential religious requirement as it is done for economic reasons and the Muslims have an option to slaughter cows on Bakr Id, and, an optional religious practice is not covered under Article 25(1)11.

Whereas, in the case of Hindus, cow, bullock, bull and calves are worshipped and also there are also various Hindu temples associated with them.12

Article 19 (1)(g). All citizen shall have the right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.13

There are certain restrictions that can be imposed on this right but a total restriction on a right to carry business can be regarded as unreasonable. In a case before the SC, where the question was whether the total prohibition on cow slaughter violated the Fundamental Right of butcher under 19(1)(g), the court drew a distinction between “control” and “prohibition” and held that, when the exercise of a Fundamental Right is prohibited, the burden of proving that a total ban alone on the exercise of that particular right would ensure the maintenance of general public interest, lies heavily upon the State. If the State failed in discharging that burden, then such prohibition/restriction is liable to be struck down.

CONCLUSION

The SC in the State of Gujrat vs. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat14 held that a complete ban on the slaughter of cow and other bovines is completely justified. The ban on bovine slaughter impacts India’s rural economy as a bullock costs about Rs. 25,000 to 50,000 and once it becomes unproductive or uneconomical due to illness or injury, it can be sold for culling for about Rs.10,000 to 20,000. In this way, earlier the farmer was able to raise capital from unproductive cattle. But now, with the imposition of total ban, a farmer with unproductive cattle has nowhere to go.15

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Also, beef is significantly cheaper that chicken or fish and is part of diet of many individuals who can’t afford other varieties of meat. Moreover, if we see this ban on a legal front, it can be argued that this ban is violative of right to life as envisaged under Article 21.

It is also to be remembered that India is a secular nation and the demands of all the communities have to be catered to. The Government should make every effort to balance majority sentiments with minority needs. It is also essential to note that the life of no animal is greater than the worth of a hum
an being and inciting hatred amongst ourselves on these issues will only ensure darker days in the future.


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Footnote:

  1. INDIA CONST. art. 48.
  2. https://scroll.in/article/689155/Ban-on-cow-slaughter-in-24-Indian-states-is-leading-to-dead-humans-on-the-border
  3. INDIA CONST. art. 48.
  4. Mohammed Hanif Quareshi v. State of Bihar, A.I.R. 1958 S.C. 731.
  5. State of Gujrat vs. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat, (2005) 8 S.C.C. 534.
  6. INDIA CONST. art. 51A (g).
  7. State of Gujrat vs. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat, (2005) 8 S.C.C. 534.
  8. T.N Godavarman Thirumalpad v. Union of India & Ors, A.I.R. 2003 S.C.W. 23.
  9. INDIA CONST. art. 25(1).
  10. State of West Bengal vs. Ashutosh Lahiri, A.I.R. 1995 S.C. 464.
  11. State of Gujrat vs. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat, (2005) 8 S.C.C. 534.
  12. State of West Bengal vs. Ashutosh Lahiri, A.I.R. 1995 S.C. 464.
  13. INDIA CONST. art. 19(1)(g).
  14. State of Gujrat vs. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat, (2005) 8 S.C.C. 534.
  15. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/beef-ban-and-bloodshed/1/493111.html.

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