Among other important issues facing the country, an interesting debate on the beef ban in Maharashtra gained traction on the news wheels and social media. Understandably, the outrage industry was back in business with reactions varying from in support to the other extreme of condemning the ban. A similar ban was imposed in Haryana, which gives the police powers to arrest anyone possessing beef to be charged under Section 302 that deals with murder.
Sentiments govern a particular set of beliefs that make it necessary to be adhered to. Killing a cow in Hinduism is believed to be a sin since India’s culture advocates for peaceful coexistence. In the early chapters of the Mahabharata, Ganga narrates an interesting story to Shantanu when the eight Vasus beheld Vasishta’s cow Nandini. When Dyu forcefully carried away Nandini, Vasishta cursed them to be born on earth to suffer the fate of mortals. It is interesting to note that this story, though rich in symbolism, justifies the reverence Hindus place for cows. Hence, it becomes only natural to condemn killing an animal which is special for the majority. The directive principles that govern the law making process explicitly mentions: ‘Organisation of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry: 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 breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cows, calves and other milch and draught cattle.’
Indian intellectuals intimidate others by quoting Hindus have consumed beef during the Vedic period. Culture, as we know it, is a dynamic process that changes according to time and is not static. While it is understandable that the outrage industry works predominantly on denouncing the BJP and its allegedly communal representative politics but if a group like the Dalits, Muslims and Christians depend on beef for their daily intake of protein, the BJP will surely pay a price for it electorally in 2019.
While meat and milk can surely be made cheaper, most of them understand that it comes at the risk of animal welfare. It is common knowledge that the beef industry does not exist and it is only the dairy industry that exists which produces both milk and beef. However, given that not many restaurants serve beef in public, it does amuse when people outrage as though it is a staple diet for many. The question here is not about how cows and other animals are milked but about the treatment of animals. Intensive dairy production has led to several unhealthy means being adopted: for example, cows which are impregnated by bulls so that the calves survive long after their birth. In order to ensure a win-win situation for both, the efficient way is to ensure that cows are milked only for the first two lactations and stay in indoors. The productivity of cattle falls after the first two calvings that produce the milk yields.
The beef ban, in many ways, also highlights the treatment of unwanted animals. Owners of abattoirs are technically free to release the cattle into the wild. Given that many strays are usually deprived of food and water, the state and the people have a social responsibility towards ensuring the protection of such animals. YouTube has extensive videos that depict slaughter houses, trucks that are overloaded with cattle. This sight evokes strong emotions and it is unfortunate if animal rights exist only for the sake of convenience and not for the cause truly. The real question that the ban intends to pursue is to have public deliberations on animals are treated and the shocking methods of transportation and the public perception about slaughter.
Lastly, there are several ways that governments globally commit to protect endangered species and also to ensure that animals are not raised for food. I agree that cows so far are not an endangered species but the issue is about respecting animal welfare as well. Eating animals is not a fundamental right. In India, however, beef is not yet a staple food and not many restaurants serve it. Within the realm of animal rights, one wonders why animal rights therefore become a matter of convenience. The argument posed is not about the superiority of one religion among others.
As I said in the beginning, it is about the sentiment that governs the animals are treated. The beef ban once again proposes to remind us about how animals are treated. Hence, the ban needs to be welcomed and must force us to spare a thought for the animal world which also forms an integral part to sustain the ecological balance.