Guest Post By Gaurav Jain
Respected Supreme Court of India,
It’s time you take a firm stand. You must decide whether you would continue giving ammunition to the communal elements to kill Akhlaqs, Nomans and Zahids in the name of “religious sentiments” or would you stand firmly and unambiguously by the side of fundamental rights of its citizens.
When the highest court of the country holds the beef-ban laws operational in various states as “Constitutional”, it almost validates the highly contorted views of these Hindu-Supremacists that the cow is a divine animal which must be protected. A view which is extrapolated to – whosoever tries to slaughter mother-cow or eat its meat deserves to be killed.
It’s not just about Beef any longer. The way people are being mob-lynched on mere suspicion of eating beef or smuggling cows, It has encroached upon our fundamental right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by the Constitution of India under Article 21. Right to food and freedom to choose what you want to eat – including Beef – is very well covered under it.
It baffles me, the ease with which governments comes up with arbitrary laws curtailing our choice of food and then shamelessly plead that it’s within its prerogative and whatever restriction it is putting on our diet are in “Public good” and “reasonable” because, guess what, nobody dies if he doesn’t eat beef! And you give in!
If that’s the logic being used, are we talking about fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution or alms given to us by the state which can be retracted at any moment at the drop of a hat?
The laws in various states banning cow-slaughter and consumption (even possession) of beef don’t qualify on any of the 3 parameters – just, fair and reasonable – laid down by you in ‘Maneka Gandhi v. Union Of India’ (1978 AIR 597) yet all of them enjoy constitutional validity. Thanks to, I am sorry to use the word, mind-numbing verdict by you in 2005 in ‘State Of Gujarat vs Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab’ (2005 8 SCC 534).
One of the arguments of the state government in this case was – “Beef contributes only 1.3% of the total meat consumption pattern of the Indian society. Consequently a prohibition on the slaughter of cattle would not substantially affect the food consumption of the people.”
A frightening chill ran down my spine when I read this preposterous conclusion. Since a handful number of people eat beef, ban it. Since a handful number of people are gay, ban them. Let the majority rule!
You validated such a reprehensible attempt of the state under the assumption that the legislature best knows what is best for its people. While holding this view, you forgot that coincidentally, State is the biggest litigator, fighting cases against the very same people. I am glad you didn’t rely on this assumption too much while deciding the validity of NJAC.
Another pro-ban argument of the Gujarat government was that slaughtering of bulls and bullocks beyond the age of 16 years was constantly declining and constituted only 1.10% of the total slaughtering in the last 8 years “which is very less significant to cause or affect the business of butcher communities.”
Expressing his Bewilderment to this logic, Justice A K Mathur said, “I fail to understand how this legislation can advance the cause of the public at the expense of the denial of Fundamental Right of this class of persons (butchers).”
Ignoring his lone dissenting voice in a 7-judge-bench, you ruled that even when a cattle becomes ‘useless’, it provides dung and urine which can be used to make organic fertilizers and pesticides in such colossal quantities that it offsets the cost incurred in maintaining the animal. Hence it can’t be said that the cattle becomes useless and therefore should NOT be slaughtered.
In other words, you held that the value of gaumutra (Urine) and gobar (dung) was more than our fundamental rights of life and liberty and profession and speech put together! Holy Sh*t! Before this judgement, the only animal, to the best of my knowledge, that had proven the worth of its life based exclusively on its excreta was Earthworm!
This verdict of yours not only reduced the faith of an ordinary citizen in the judiciary, it also patronized the farmers. Just like I have my right to choose my diet, a farmer has the right to choose his farming style.
Would you call it a “reasonable restriction” if tomorrow the government bans all the western style commodes and force us to use only desi toilet seats because according to a recent and highly reliable research reports, squatting has been found to be the best ‘style’ to defecate!
The bottom line is, why am I forced to maintain a dry cow or an old bull all its life without expecting any return from it (except, of course, dung, urine and Methane farts, which contribute to global warning). If I am not able to maintain them, would the state provide me any kind of ‘gau-subsidy? If I want money urgently but nobody is willing to buy my milching cows or working bulls, would the state buy them from me at a minimum-support-price? if not, why am I not free to sell them to a slaughterhouse? Why, in your eyes, a quick death of a cattle in a slaughterhouse is a crime but a slow, painful death by starvation or poisoning by garbage or road accident is all fine?
By upholding the ban on cattle slaughter, you deprived the farmer of an income of anywhere between Rs 20,000-40,000 (an estimate drawn from the price a dry buffalo fetches). And this income is cash in lump-sum which can be used by the farmer in case of an emergency! Isn’t beef a legitimate reason to rear a cattle? Shouldn’t the final call of the nature of enterprise – milk centric or beef centric – be left to the farmer?
You know that our constitution does not protect the cow as a National or religious symbol. Also, Cow is neither a wild animal nor an endangered species which could be protected under the Wildlife protection act. They ultimately resorts to the last weapon in their armory – Article 48 of the constitution. How come you can’t see through the government’s ploy of pushing a highly communal agenda under the garb of Directive Principles of State Policy?
This Article has been the fountainhead of all the idiocy and bigotry in the country. This article directs the state to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and other milch and draught cattle.
The question is, is blanket-banning the only way to secure the preservation and improvement of livestock as envisioned in Article 48? If yes, then why decades of such bans haven’t succeeded in achieving these objectives?
According to a report in Hindu Businessline, Over the last three decades (1982 to 2012), average productivity of Indian cows has grown from 1.9 to 3.9 kg per day. Compare this with the best of global standards — UK, US and Israel are at 25.6, 32.8 and 38.6 kg per day, respectively. How did these countries achieve such unbelievable numbers? Did they also resort to banning cow slaughter? A simple answer is, be it Americans, Britons or Israelis, they simply love their STEAK!
The 19th Livestock census (2007-2012), reveals the failure of this ‘cow protectionist regime’. Despite the almost-exclusive-slaughtering, the Buffalo (both male & female) population has gone up by 3% to 108 million whereas indigenous Cow (both Male and female) population has gone down by 9% to 151 million! During the same time the exotic/crossbred cattle population increased by 20% to around 40 million! Clearly, what farmers are able to get is missed by the state and the judiciary. Its the simple fact that rearing indigenous cows is a loss-making proposition.
Also, How do you justify a ban on slaughtering cattle in the name of agriculture in a state like Delhi which is almost entirely urbanized? And even if, for argument’s sake, we make peace with the ban on cow and bull slaughter, why is eating and possessing beef a crime? If someone is importing beef from Meghalaya or Brazil and eating or serving to his customers, why is the government bothered?
Let’s ask an even more fundamental question. Why does a government ban a food product in the first place? Food Safety and Standards act, 2006, extensively defines “unsafe food” but we can all agree that a food which is unfit for consumption, poisonous, or potentially injurious to the body or mind can be restricted or banned by the government. On which ground does beef, imported from a state or country where cow-slaughtering is legal, qualifies to be banned?
While selling or distributing an unsafe/poisonous food which results in a “grievous injury” to one or more people can put you behind the bars for up to 6 years, Selling or storing beef, which has no such lethal side effects, might still get you imprisoned for 5 years! To rub salt in the wounds, they placed the ‘burden of proof’ on the accused rather than the prosecution! Do you think its justified to put a harmless act of eating/selling beef into the category of heinous crimes like rape and dowry death?
In the Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab case of 2005, the Gujarat government, lead by Narendra Modi, succeeded in convincing you that “a restriction placed on any Fundamental Right, aimed at securing Directive Principles will be held as reasonable,” thanks to its exceptional battalion of senior lawyers. I, despite being a first year law student, argue quite the opposite.
The situation in the society has changed drastically over the past couple of months. Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures. You must take lead and enter into a new era of water-tight fundamental rights. Forget Directive Principles, to curtail a fundamental right, even the restrictions provided within the same article must not be allowed to be invoked unless the state is able to justify the inevitability of its actions not just reasonably but beyond reasonable doubt.
The current ‘trickle-down approach’ of the government towards our fundamental rights makes a mockery of them and almost defeats the entire purpose of having them in the first place.