Since time immemorial, India has been worshipping cattle. Cows have always had a dominant role in the country’s worship, rituals, temple culture, and agriculture, forming the backbone of each household and the economy as a whole.
The British realized that this respectful relationship with cows was foundational to Indian society. As soon as Robert Clive took control of Bengal (now divided between West Bengal and the country of Bangladesh) in the 1750s, the British made cow slaughter legal in the state, along with public drinking and other vices that until then had not been in allowed in Indian communities, whether Hindu or Muslim.
The British then opened the first slaughterhouse in Bengal, employing Muslim workers as butchers and educating them that cow slaughter is acceptable in Islam. The slaughterhouse had a capacity of 30,000 cows per day, and in one year alone one crore [ten million] cows disappeared. Beef was exported from India to Britain, and became a staple in the British diet.
The Government of India’s recent amendment of the 1960 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, to regulate the cattle markets from which cows are smuggled to Bangladesh, is extremely commendable, and is indeed a major first step in meeting the urgent need to protect India’s bovine population.
While the merits and the supporters of this laudable measure have been largely ignored, the ardent opposition has received much undue attention. The uproar against cattle protection is an example of larger opposition to Hinduism as a way of life.
In no other country is such brutal cruelty practiced against cattle as in India. Over the past 1,000 years, not thousands, but tens of lakhs of people – mainly Hindus – have died in their pursuit to protect cows or stop cow slaughter in this country. However, no one seems to talk about their struggles.
Whether during the era of Muslim onslaught, Muslim rule, British rule, or Indian independence, people have given up their lives in the ongoing fight to stop cow slaughter. Unfortunately, however daring and sincere their efforts, they have so far failed to bring about a radical change. The original Hindu culture in this country has been tarnished, but the efforts to bring back an iota of our glorious past continue, and shall persevere till there actually comes about a visible change.
A noble, innocent and pious animal, who has been of extreme use to mankind throughout human history, who has been revered and worshipped in mythology, certainly should not be mercilessly killed and eaten as a result of dubious arguments.
One of the major arguments against banning cow slaughter is that people have a fundamental right to choice of food in this country. Yet rights only can exist in accordance with the basic law of the land and the culture of the soil. A choice of food can only be allowed within the purview of Indian culture. The culture of this land is certainly not to barbarically kill a revered and pious animal, spread its blood, eat it, and get money from the export of its meat and leather.
How has India forgotten the roots of her ancient, glorious culture? So great is the culture of this land that has accommodated people from all races and religions throughout the centuries. It is the duty of everyone who lives in this land to respect its culture and to protect the cow and her progeny.
Even Muslim leaders and heads of religious organizations have asked for a ban on cow slaughter. It is a small group of people with vested interests who have created so much furor about it.
Another argument goes that when cattle grow old and useless, they become a burden on the economy. Hence they should be slaughtered, eaten and exported. But then a similar argument could also be applied to human beings. Since morally and legally the latter cannot be allowed, then how can such arguments hold good for an animal that has served humankind for its entire lifetime – that when in old age it needs shelter and care, it should instead be sent away for slaughter?
Many of the farmers in India treat cattle like their family members and do not wish to dispose of them. Selling cattle for a meager sum of Rs 5000 to Rs 20000 is unlikely to improve anyone’s overall economic condition. And while humans may become unproductive in their old age, it is one of the virtues of cattle to remain useful. Their urine and dung can still be used in Hindu samskars and ayurvedic medicines. Covering walls in cow dung has even been found to help offset the effects of radiation in the event of a nuclear strike.
Cow slaughter was never prevalent in the history of this country. Then what made India the richest country in the world, wealthy in traditions, values, culture, and most importantly economic wealth? It was certainly not cow slaughter.
Wild animals like tigers and lions are also economically unproductive for the nation. They why are similar arguments not given for their slaughter, and why are they instead protected? Black buck and similar species are protected since they are endangered. If cow slaughter remains rampant, a similar situation shall soon arise for the cattle of this country. A few hundred of India’s original cattle species have already been wiped out completely.
How does a greatly capable country like India imagine earning foreign exchange through the export of beef and animals for slaughter? Similar economic arguments could be given to justify the immoral practices of human and drug trafficking. Since they are morally and legally not allowed, along similar lines cow slaughter and export should also be legally banned. It is already morally banned in Hindu religion, practice and culture.
India must take the effort to make cow slaughter a legal crime, disregarding the boundaries of the states. India has always proven capable of rising from its ashes. With each plunder of its soil by invaders, India has lost a portion of its culture, riches, monuments, heritage, and animal and human population. But however cruel the rampage and hard the fall, India has always succeeded in getting back on its feet and rebuilding its lost treasures.
The Hindu culture and heritage of neighboring countries was lost as a result of the Muslim invasions. But even though it is believed India experienced the most ruthless and brutal invasion, still India has been able to preserve its rich Hindu heritage and culture to date. Even though it may be miniscule compared to its original glory, the original Indian culture still remains.
In the past, various cruel practices have arisen in Indian society, from time to time requiring eradication by the ruling governments. Even the British rightly banished the once extremely prevalent customs of child marriage and sati. Yet still the onslaughts of Muslim, British, and other foreign invaders have left their marks on Indian customs and society at large, and some segments of the population have become habituated to such bad practices. Hence it is finally time to put an end to the evil of cow slaughter that has exceeded its boundaries once and for all, disregarding the furor that it may generate.
Stating that the states can follow their own laws, disregarding the central law, shall eventually bring forth chaos, with each one following their own ideologies and sowing seeds for the ultimate disintegration of the nation.
There are various debates on the Muslim customs of triple talaq [divorce by pronouncing “talaq” three times] and the like. But there seems to be no argument against the torture that animals are made to go through under the guise of Halal slaughter. How can putting an animal through a most gruesome death, draining all its blood in the most barbaric manner, be acceptable in a modern and a civilized society? Buffalo calves made to stand in line see the fate of those ahead of them, and literally tremble with fear, but have no choice but to accept their miserable destiny.
[Publisher’s note: while abuses such as those described above are rampant in so-called Halal slaughterhouses, many of these practices are actually forbidden under Islamic law, as stated by Sheikh Muhammad Sayed Tantawi in his 2008 fatwa against cruelty to animals]
When countries such as Cuba have banned cow slaughter completely, why cannot India? The divine law of the land gives each being born on that land a right to life. Cattle have rights to life, food, and shelter. Calves have a right to drink their mothers’ milk, and cows have a right to be protected in their old age. This highly useful animal, that has maintained its status not only in the ancient Hindu religious scriptures, but also in the hearts and homes of millions of true Hindus, has a fundamental right to be protected.
There are many homeless cattle in this country. This fact does not give anyone – whether their owners, butchers, or smugglers – the right to just slaughter them. The Directive principles of state policy direct the states to “protect and preserve cattle”, which certainly does not mean a “right to slaughter.” Slaughter is not a constituent of the term “preservation.” Trying to find ways and means to justify illegal and immoral vested interests needs to be prevented.
The foremost step in this regard is the construction of cattle sheds for old cattle, as has in reality already been directed to the states via the principles; the construction of ideal goshalas in each district of each state; and the making of uniform laws throughout the states concerning the treatment of cattle. Collaboration with rich temple trusts and non-profit humane organizations shall play a major role in eradicating the cruel and evil practice of cow slaughter in this country.
Featured image credit Bonny Shah, via Animal People’s Flickr page.