The Mad Cow Disease

On the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti, January 14, 2003, a rampaging mob allegedly led by VHP and Bajrang Dal activists set the bazar on fire in Ganjbasoda, a small town in Vidisha District, burning down a number of shops owned by Muslims. The immediate provocation was a reported case of cow slaughter by a Muslim butcher, Salim and the recovery of some meat and about a dozen cowhides from the house of the butcher. In an act of utter stupidity the Ganjbasoda police made the recovery in full daylight at about 9.00 in the morning and then loaded the recovered material on to a cart and paraded it through the town on the way to the police station, thus further inflaming the mob, which had gathered. Unfortunately, on that day, the SP of Vidisha District was on leave and out of station and the Station Officer of the Ganjbasoda Police Station was away at Satna in connection with a court case. The revenue officers cum executive magistrates had been summoned for a meeting in the district headquarters by the Collector, with the result that there was no senior police or magisterial officer present in Ganjbasoda on the fateful day. Fortunately, there was no loss of life because the Muslims, in a sensible act of self-preservation, offered no resistance. The situation was brought under control very quickly but the fact remains that it was badly handled locally, thus indicating that all is not well with the district administration in the state. That, however, is another story.

Ever since the incident both the Congress and the BJP in MP have done their very best to politicize the situation. The BJP has been projecting the incident as an example of the failure of the Digvijay Government to protect the interests of the Hindus and prevent cow slaughter. On the other end of the spectrum a group of pro-left activists has gone to the extent of stating that it is the Sangh Parivar members who provoked the incident by planting some meat in Salim's house. The Congress party and the Chief Minister have spared no effort to refer to the whole incident as pre planned by Hindu extremists who are trying to communalize the situation and ensure a repeat of the Gujarat episode in MP with an eye to the elections.

The Chief Minister, in an act of one-upmanship, stated that he has written to the Prime Minister asking him to bring forth legislation to ban cow slaughter. He is also quoted by India Today in its issue dated February 10,2003 as having said, 'I am saving the cow's neck, while the BJP is seeking votes by catching its tail." What is forgotten by Digvijay is that amongst Hindus the way to cross the Vaitarni is by hanging on to the tail of Kamdhenu, the legendary cow of plenty, which means that if BJP is hanging on to the cow's tail it could well cross the political Vaitarni. Regardless of what irresponsible people in the Sangh Parivar might say, it does not behove the Chief Minister to make such statements. In any case, he should have known that there is a law on the Statute Book in MP dating back to 1959 dealing with cow slaughter and even banning the export of cows whose age is less than fifteen years. The Patwa Government tried to enlarge the scope of this Act but the amendment was struck down by the courts. Nevertheless the 1959 Act remains and should be enforced. In any case, Entry Fifteen of List Two of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution puts preservation and protection of stock within the legislative competence of the state legislature and, therefore, laws to prevent cow slaughter are very much within the purview of the states. The Union Parliament comes into the picture only if there is a question of stopping inter state trade in cattle which is covered by Entry Forty Two of List One of the Seventh Schedule.

Article 48 of the Constitution, which forms part of the Directive Principles, reads, ' The State shall endeavor to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breed and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle'. It should be noted that no religious significance is attached by the Constitution to the protection of cows and other bovines and that Article 48 is only recognition of the fact that India is a predominantly agricultural country in which milch and draught animals need protection. It is only incidental that cows are sacred to Hindus, but Article 48 goes beyond just cows and covers even buffaloes. It is a well known fact that in parts of India and in adjoining Nepal buffaloes are sacrificed to Devi on Dusserah day, without in any way hurting Hindu sentiments. Nevertheless, under Article 48 the slaughter of buffaloes can be banned because they are useful for milking and for draught. A truly secular state should use Article 48 to justify legislation for protection of bovines and preventing their slaughter and not make cow protection a political issue in an effort to win Hindu votes. This applies equally to the Congress and the BJP. One is surprised that an issue such as this is used by the political parties to tout their Hindu credentials and to sling mud at each other. This is on par with the condemnation of the Tamil Nadu law for prevention of religious conversion, especially because the Congress Government of MP (then C P & Berar) was the first in the country to enact such a law in 1951 based on the Justice Niyogi Commission Report.

As often happens with a communalized and politicized debate, it is the truth which suffers. In the Ganjbasoda case, it is alleged that a Muslim butcher slaughtered one or more cows in or near his house. Under Section 257 of the M P Municipal Corporation Act, 1956 (there are identical provisions in the M P Municipalities Act) the municipality is required to fix a place where animals may be slaughtered for human consumption and it is a criminal offence for any one to slaughter an animal in a place not so designated. The first offence committed by the butcher was to slaughter an animal at a place not so designated. His second offence was violation of the 1959 law banning cow slaughter. His third offence was under Section 268 of the Indian Penal Code because he committed an act of public nuisance, which caused annoyance to the public and led to a riotous situation. His fourth offence was under Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code for the act of cow slaughter, which outrages the feelings of the Hindu community. He should have been booked for all these offences, the offending material seized quietly and transported discretely away from the scene of the crime and he should have been arrested and quickly brought to trial. No attempt should have been made either by the Chief Minister or by the BJP leaders to politicize Ganjbasoda and certainly the rioters and arsonists who went on the rampage should have been severely handled and then quickly brought to justice.

When I was a young officer it was drilled into me and others of my ilk, that one of the secrets of good administration is 'hikmat amli'. There is no English or Hindi equivalent of this phrase. Its nearest meaning is sound common sense in administration. Let me end with a story of my own days as Collector and District Magistrate of Ujjain, one of the two oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and certainly ranking equal to Varanasi as a sacred place of the Hindus. I had a very fine officer, Ram Rao Dube, as my SP. He is deeply religious, totally incorruptible and completely devoted to duty. It was the year 1965 and I was a young officer with an SP on the verge of retirement who had risen from the rank of constable and had been highly decorated in the process. At about 2.00 AM on a dark night a patrolling constable caught a Muslim butcher slaughtering a cow. He immediately arrested the man and marched him off to the nearest police station. The matter was immediately reported to the SP who arranged for the carcass to be lifted and taken for postmortem. The veterinarian cooperated and at least for the record stated that the cow had died of natural causes. The carcass was quietly disposed of. At dawn police pickets were posted all over, the city and a number of likely trouble makers, including some butchers, were rounded up. Very early in the morning the SP and I convened a meeting of the prominent citizens and religious leaders of both Hindus and Muslims in our control room, apprised them of the incident, told them of the likely cause of death as certified by the veterinarian and assured them that we were taking all the steps necessary to further investigate the incident and ensure that the cattle population was fully protected. The culprit was suitably spoken to, somewhat informally and decided that a period of absence from Ujjain would be good for his health, I recount this incident because of the manner in which the SP dealt with it and ensured that no trouble ensued and that Ujjain remained peaceful. This is a fit case for the use of the expression, 'narova kunjarova' and I have no regrets for the white lie that we told. But where is hikmat today?   


More by :  Mahesh N Buch

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