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PERSPECTIVES

Cow Slaughter Ban


and the Welfare of Cattle
A Vaidyanathan

In recent years, state after state,


under the rule of parties with
diverse ideologies, has enacted
legislation banning cow slaughter
without serious consideration of
the rationale and content of the
laws or the practical problems
of implementing them. Now we
have aggressive attempts by vocal
sections of the Bharatiya Janata
Party and its affiliates to insist
on extending the ban to cover
production, sale and consumption
of beef. This article looks at the
issue of management of cattle and
buffalo livestock in its entirety
to shed light on what needs to be
done and what should
not be done.

A Vaidyanathan (a.vaidyanathan053@gmail.com)
is a long-standing contributor to EPW and an
Honorary Fellow of the Centre for
Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.

44

he issue of cow slaughter was the


subject of an intense academic
debate in the 1970s. A discussion
of the case for and against it, initiated by
V M Dandekar and K N Raj, triggered
several other researchers to comprehensively and analytically explore the role of
cattle (and buffaloes) in Indias economy.
It resulted in numerous journal articles,
several doctoral theses and some books.
They brought out the distinguishing
features of the size, species, gender and
age composition of bovines, their functional role and the ecological, economic
and religious factors that shape these
characteristics nationally and across
regions. Regrettably, both public discourse
and interest of academics in larger issues
highlighted by these studies soon tapered
off. There has been little research of
comparable scope and depth since. The
focus has shifted to specific aspects
dealing largely with the role of bovines
as milch animals, the relative merits of
the cow and the buffalo and dairy development programmes to increase milk
production. Meanwhile, banning cow
slaughter became an increasingly important political issue. State after state,
under the rule of parties with diverse
ideologies, enacted legislation banning
cow slaughter without serious consideration of the rationale and content of the
laws or the practical problems of implementing them. Of late, interest in these
issues has revived in the face of recent
aggressive attempts by vocal sections of
the Bharatiya Janata Party and its affiliates to insist on extending the ban to
cover production, sale and consumption
of beef.
Arguments Pro and Con
The arguments for banning cow slaughter
and the consumption of beef have several
strands:

(1) Banning cow slaughter is necessary


and justified because Hindu religious
belief venerates the cow as a holy animal.
(2) It is among the Directive Principles of
State Policy incorporated in the Constitution and several states have enacted
laws for enforcing the ban on slaughter
and also against sale and consumption
of beef. (3) Cows form the backbone of
the economy and allowing slaughter will
cause serious damage to society.
These arguments and the policies that
are based on them are contested on
several grounds:
(1) The fundamental objection to the ban
on cow slaughter, consumption of beef
and the manner in which it is sought to
be enforced are against the spirit of our
Constitution that recognises, celebrates
and seeks to accommodate the immense
diversity of religious beliefs, and dietary
preferences in the society.
(2) Forcing specific dietary taboos of a
particular section of society on all other
sections and the imposition of punitive
sanctions with severe penalties on violators, especially by individuals within the
privacy of their homes, is questionable.
(3) Individuals must be free to decide
what kinds of food (including what kinds
of meat) they want to eat. Recent
attempts to enforce the ban on beef
eating through coercive violence by vigilantes are obviously illegal. The consequences of failing to check this tendency
in terms of exacerbating latent social
tensions and disruption of healthy functioning of democratic politics are of
great concern.
The divergent premises of these contending positions and the highly emotional, shrill and politicised nature of
debates on this issue in public forums
and the media are inimical to reasoned
and informed discussion. Such a discussion requires a closer scrutiny of the
basis for and implications of diverse arguments; a critical assessment of the
actual functioning and impact of the
way the extant bans are being implemented; a clearer understanding of the
countrys bovine economy in all its
aspects and the factors that shape it; and
assessing the extent to which the ban

NOVEMBER 28, 2015

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PERSPECTIVES

and the manner in which it is sought to


be enforced is vitiating the basic spirit of
the Constitution in terms of fundamental rights to citizens, non-discrimination
on the basis of caste and religion, and its
core value of ensuring that the immense
diversity of the polity is preserved and
protected. In addressing these issues this
article draws on the findings of intensive
research on the countrys bovine economy triggered by the extensive debate
on banning cow slaughter nearly four
decades back1 and updating them with
the latest available data.
Cattle and Their Functional Role
That religious belief conditions Hindus
attitudes to cows is undeniable. Considered sacred, they are honoured through
special pujas and festivals, they are
widely used in religious rituals (pujas,
havans, sraddha); go dhan is considered
important to help departed souls to their
heavenly abode; go hatya is considered a
mortal sin; beef eating is taboo; and cow
dung and urine are believed to have
cleansing and curative properties. It
needs to be noted that all these beliefs
and practices are not observed equally
by all sections of Hindus in all regions.
Nor are they the basis on which people
choose the size and composition of cattle (and buffaloes which also play an
important role in the rural economy)
or how people manage them. These
decisions are made at the individual
household-level based on the resources
it has to acquire and manage them animals after meeting its livelihood needs
and its assessment of the relative priorities of different functions that animals
perform.
Traditionally, bullocks have been the
predominant source of draught power
for carrying out critical agricultural
operations. Though an important source
of milk and calves, cows are low yielding animals and those which yield milk
are a small proportion of the total.
They also produce calves to replace
attritions in the cattle stock and for its
growth. Maintaining cattle is therefore
of crucial importance for cultivators. But
those with very small holdings cannot
afford to maintain their own animals.
And non-cultivators (those engaged in
Economic & Political Weekly

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NOVEMBER 28, 2015

non-agricultural activity and wage


labourers) do not need and/or cannot
afford to keep animals. Recent data (circa
mid-1990s) show that nearly 70% of rural
households do not have either bullocks
or cows. Among the rest, the proportion
of households with cattle is lowest
among those with less than 0.1 hectare
(ha) and increases with the holding size
to over two-thirds of households with
more than 4 ha. Larger farmers have a
greater capacity to maintain a larger
number of both bullocks and cows: this is
reflected in both the proportion of
households reporting ownership and
also the number of animals.
In sharp contrast, adult buffaloes are
used only to a small extent for draught
purposes and that too in a few regions.
Adult females, which far outnumber
adult males, are used primarily to produce milk. They are now nearly as
numerous as cows but account for the
major part of the countrys total milk
output. This asymmetry in the use of adult
cattle and buffaloes reflects the latters
unsuitability under Indian conditions for
land preparation and other cultivation
operations. Overall, the proportion of
households keeping adult males as well
as their number is small except in a few
regions. As milch animals, buffaloes are
far superior to cows in terms of the
proportion of animals in milk, length of
lactation period, yield and quality of
milk. The ownership of adult she-buffaloes is more widely diffused across regions and across different-sized holdings. The proportion of households
owning milch buffaloes as well as
their number increases with the size
of holding.
Cattle Mortality
Among adult cattle, bullocks are consistently more numerous (by around 40% in
recent years) than cows. This is due to
higher mortality rates among adult
cows than among bullocks. Up-to-date
data on age-specific mortality rates are
not available. But evidence from earlier
surveys indicates that the average death
rate among both sexes increases with
age but tends to be lower; it increases
more slowly and for a longer period
among bullocks than among females.
vol l no 48

The death rate among cows increases


very steeply with age and the gender gap
in this respect widens with advancing age.
The growing plurality of females among
adult female buffaloesthe ratio in recent years has been 7:1reflects very high
rates of culling of young male stock that
greatly reduces the number reaching
adulthood and high mortality rates
among adult males. Mortality among shebuffaloes is much lower but age-specific
data are not available. It is noteworthy
that the gender-wise pattern of mortality
among cross-bred cows, which is increasing rapidly, is very different from that of
indigenous animals and is similar to that
of buffaloes.
Differentials in mortality rates among
young stock also follow a similar pattern
(Table 1): among cattle, the number of
male calves which survive to adulthood
is much smaller than that of females.
Given that at birth the number of male
calves is more or less the same as for
females, this difference reflects higher
mortality rates of male calves, especially
within a year of birth. This pattern is
much more pronounced among crossbred cattle and buffaloes than among
indigenous stock.
Table 1: Mortality Rates of Male and Female Cattle
Age

Mortality Rate/000
Male
Female

1 year
2 years
34 years
56 years
79 years
1012 years

61
29
28
20
22
54

53
24
21
28
24
76

Data relates to 197576, latest available figures.


Source: NSSO, Sarvekshana ,1978.

Death could occur for several reasons:


natural causes (disease, accident); culling
through negligence in feeding, healthcare by owners; disposal by sale; or
slaughter. Unfortunately, we do not have
data on age- and gender-specific mortality rates or of their causes. The general
impression is that most deaths of young
cattle stock are due to natural causes
and owners discriminatory neglect and
negligence. Their carcasses are disposed
of or processed locally, primarily for
recovery of their hides. Cattle-owning
households (irrespective of religion) take
good care of bullocks and cows that are
healthy and productive.
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PERSPECTIVES

But as animals age, the capacity of


bullocks for work deteriorates and the
productivity of cows in terms of both
milk and calves declines. This process
starts earlier and continues at a more
rapid pace among cows compared to
bullocks. Owners adapt by trading low
productivity animals for those that can
perform better. This is possible because
there is a market for older, weaker and
less productive animals among other
sections of farmers. Cattle fairs play an
important role in mediating this process.
These features are also shared by buffaloes but mortality rates among young
and adult male animals are much higher
than among cattle. Milch animals are
tended to with greater care. There is no
religious or legal taboo on slaughter or
consumption of their meat.
But this process does not work among
old cattle (and buffaloes) because their
productivity in terms of work, milk yields
and calving relative to costs falls with
advancing age to levels where they are
uneconomic or useless. The aged and
unwanted animals are disposed of in several ways: letting them die naturally;
sending cattle to gau shalas; abandoning
and leaving them to fend for themselves
as stray cattle; and selling them off
through cattle markets. The number of
animals disposed of in different ways is
not known. By all accounts, those sent to
gau shalas and adding to the stray cattle
population account for only a small
fraction of the total. But old and unproductive animals (and buffaloes generally) are useful for their skin, which is
used in the domestic leather products
industry; for their meat, which is consumed by some sections of the domestic
population and for export. This potential
is exploited to some extent, locally and
more visibly, through purchase of such
animals in cattle markets, their organised transport to abattoirs in distant
locations.
Ban on Cow Slaughter
Most states (other than Kerala and West
Bengal) have enacted laws that seek to
ban or restrict cow slaughter by specifying stringent conditions regarding age
and health of animals that can be slaughtered, prohibition of large-scale transport
46

of such cattle across and within states;


and for licensing and inspection of
abattoirs. But it is widely recognised that
these laws are largely ineffective. Governments and their bureaucracies are indifferent and unable to ensure compliance
with regulations in the face of resistance
and opposition from the economically
important meat and leather industries.
Restrictions on large-scale transport of
cattle across and within regions are
widely violated. Lax supervision and
enforcement enables even licensed modern abattoirs that are supposed to
slaughter only buffaloes, and are expected to be more strictly monitored, to
slaughter cattle on a large scale. Not
only is the ban on cattle slaughter ineffective but regulations to ensure that
healthy and productive animals are protected and that those taken to slaughter
are not ill-treated, decrepit, and diseased.
The conditions and methods of operation
of most abattoirs are unhygienic and
unhealthy. Checking such violations
becomes unmanageable because of the
huge number of unlicensed and illegal
abattoirs where both cattle and buffaloes are slaughtered. Nor is it practically
feasible to check the extent to which
meat sold by abattoirs for domestic
consumption and exports contains
banned beef. In this respect too, the
effectiveness of ban on production and
sale of beef is doubtful.
Overhauling the
Regulatory Regime
That there is a need and room for overhaul
of the regulatory regime is obvious. The
scope of compulsory licensing must be
extended to cover all abattoirs above a
certain size. The content of regulations
needs to be rationalised by removing
ambiguities, clarify abattoirs responsibility to observe restrictions on the collection and transport of animals; the species,
age, physical condition and health of
animals that they can slaughter; maintain a hygienic and sanitised environment in which products are recovered,
stored and disposed; and ensure transparency in operations by maintaining
accurate accounts. The challenging task
of monitoring has to be handled by making periodic reporting of their operations

mandatory, backed by surprise on-site


verification of records on a sample
basis. Non-observance of regulations,
and false reporting must attract punitive
penalties. All this calls for an autonomous regulatory organisation manned
by professionals.
The scope and content of regulations,
however, need to take into account the
rapidly changing ground reality in the
scale and composition of animals facing
death. Recent trends in cattle population (Table 2).
(1) Total cattle population, which shows
sustained if slow growth till the early
1990s, has since stabilised and even
shows signs of decline. The buffalo population shows sustained growth at a
faster rate. It is currently two and a half
times the level in 1951, compared to the
less than 25% increase of cattle.
(2) The trend in bullock population
reflects the declining role of bullocks as
a source of draught power in agriculture.
Since male buffaloes are rarely used for
work, the slowing down (and recent,
apparent decline) in the number of bullocks is because of the proliferation of
smallholdings that cannot afford to keep
any large animals, and because of progressive mechanisation of agriculture
and rural transport that has reduced the
requirements of animal power in the
rural economy. The recent rapid growth
in cross-bred cattle stock in which the
proportion of males is very small and the
progressive increase in mortality of
young male indigenous stock (reflected
in the sustained reduction relative to the
Table 2: Long-Term Trends in Laze and Composition
of Bovine Stock in India
(in million)
1951 1972 1982 1993 1997 2003 2007

Cattle
Total
Adult males
Adult females
Percent in milk
Young stock
Male
Female
Buffaloes
Total
Adult males
Adult females
Percent in milk
Young stock
Male
Female

NOVEMBER 28, 2015

155 178 192 204


62.1 74.8 75 76.7
50 56.6 59.5 63.5
37.8 39 46.2 52.8

199 185 199


68.3 57.4 56.1
65.1 64.6 72.9
51.7 55 56.1

21.7 22.7 25.7 27.0 26.8 25.0 27.6


21.5 24.3 31.5 38.7 38.9 37.9 42.6
43.4
6.8
21.9
na

51.2
7.7
25.1
51.5

57.4 69.1 77.9 90 91.9


8.1 8.3 8.1 6.1
8
29.3 34.7 43.9 46.8 47.5
55.6 59.0 60.7 65.1 74.2

5.2 6.5 7.0 8.0 9.3 10.7 10.6


9.4 11.9 12.9 18.2 13.0 24.4 27.3

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number of young female stock) has also


contributed to slowing down the growth
of the bullock population.
(4) Over the same period there has been
a progressive increase in the cow population. As a result, the relative importance
of bullocks and cows among adult cattle
has been falling progressively: in the
early 1950s bullocks used to outnumber
cows by 25%; the ratio narrowed to near
parity by the mid-1990s and thereafter
they have been outnumbered by cows.
(5) The relatively faster growth in the
number of adult cows reflects the growing importance of milk production. But
the importance of cows as a source of
milk has diminished with the growing
dominance of buffaloes: in terms of numbers, cows which comprised nearly 70%
of the total milch animal stock in 1951
have decreased progressively to 60% in
2007. Efficiency indicators (the proportion
of animals in milk, the lactation period,
the quantum and quality of milk yields)
show progressive improvement both
among cows and buffaloes but more so
among buffaloes. In terms of milk output, therefore the share of cows is much
smaller and possibly declining.
(6) The trends in the growth of adult
males and females are mirrored in
young stock as well. In 1951, the number
of young males was more or less the
same as that of females. But after showing a slow but progressive rise till the
mid-1990s, the number has more or less
stabilised. The population of female
young stock shows a sustained growth.
The sex ratio among young stock has
progressively shifted in favour of
females.
Impact of Cross-breeds
The introduction of cross-breeds has
brought about major changes in all characteristics of the cattle population in the
last decade and a half. Introduced and
actively promoted from the 1980s, their
numbers have grown apace: their stock
has more than doubled between 1993
and 2007 even as that of indigenous
stock shows a progressive decline (by
about 10%) over the same period. Their
respective compositions are also very
different and changing at different
rates (Table 3).
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NOVEMBER 28, 2015

Nearly 40% of all indigenous cattle


stock were males in 1993, compared to
30% among cross-breeds. This proportion has declined in both to about 30%
in indigenous cattle and less than 10%
among cross-breeds. The absolute number of adult cross-bred males is very
small and they are not used for work.
The reduction in bullock population in
absolute terms is mostly a reflection of
reduction in the proportion of adult
males among the indigenous cattle.
Among adult females, while the
number from the indigenous cattle has
remained more or less stagnant during
the last decade and a half, that of crossbreeds has increased threefold and now
Table 3: Recent Trends in Size and Composition
of Cross-Breeds and Indigenous Cattle
(million no)
Cross-breeds
Total
Adult males
Adult females
Percent in milk
Young stock
Male
Female
Indigenous
Total
Adult males
Adult females
Percent in milk
Young stock
Male
Female

1993

1997

2003

2007

15.2
4.7
6.5
61.5

20.0
2.7
9.3
63.4

24.7
1.8
12.4
63.1

33.1
2.9
16.1
66.5

2.0
4.1

2.6
5.4

3.1
7.2

4.0
10.1

189
72
57
48.4

179
65.6
55.8
49.1

160
55.6
52.8
52.9

166
53.2
56.8
54.0

25.0
34.6

24.2
33.5

21.9
30.7

23.6
32.5

comprises nearly 30% of cow population. Cross-bred cows, like buffaloes, are
superior milch animals in terms of proportion in milk, lactation periods and
yield potential compared to indigenous
cows. In all these respects, both the
indigenous and cross-bred cows show
sustained improvement but more so
among the latter.
The traditionally marked selective
and differential treatment of male and
female cattle of different ages has been
accentuated by the spread of the crossbreeds. Thus in 2007, among cross-breeds
the population of female calves, less
than a year old, is about 50% higher
than that of male calves. Since the number of male and female calves is more
or less equal at birth, this implies that
the proportions that die within the first
year of birth are much higher among
vol l no 48

males than females among cross-breeds.


This difference is accentuated among
elder young stock (in the 12.5 years for
males and 12 for females); females outnumber males by 5:1. Among indigenous
cattle gender differences in young stock
mortality are marginal.
But the picture among surviving adults
is significantly different: the pre-crossbred era bullocks lived longer and had a
lower overall mortality rate while cows
had a lower longevity and a higher mortality rate. After introduction of crossbreeds, the traditional pattern of adult
mortality shows a dramatic change. The
progressive reduction in the number of
bullocks, reflecting the reduction in the
demand for bullocks, is likely to lower
the quality of their care and reduction of
the age at which their use is dispensed
with. In the case of the cross-breeds,
since most deaths occur among young
stock, the number of surviving adults is
small and more or less stagnant.
Most of the increase in the cow population is accounted by the cross-breeds.
Being more productive both in terms of
milk yields and calving rates, their adult
mortality rates are also likely to be much
lower than among cows of indigenous
species. Among indigenous cattle also,
there is a progressive shift in adult sex
ratio towards females. Taken together
with the increasing proportion, that is,
in milk suggests improvement in quality
of care and a reduction in mortality of
indigenous cows also.
Data on the magnitude and causes of
mortality among cattle are scanty. Roughly a third of male calves die within the
first year of their birth and about half of
the surviving ones are lost before reaching adulthood. The rate is much higher
among the cross-breeds. Practically, all
female calves survive to complete a year
and thereafter a little less than half grow
to adulthood. Mortality is partly due to
natural causes and partly reflects deliberate culling among males as well as
females. The differences in the treatment of males and females seem to
reflect difficulties in assessing the prospects of their growing into healthy and
productive adults. The numbers lost in
the process are large: some 14 million
males and 12 million females a year
47

PERSPECTIVES

(2007). There is hardly any study of the


causes of death, methods used for culling, the manner of disposition and processing of the dead calves. All this is
believed to be managed locally.
Among adults, as pointed out earlier
based on patchy and outdated estimates
of age-specific mortality rates, female
mortality is higher and increases faster
with age than that of males. This is contrary to what one would expect if religious belief in the veneration of cow was
the determining factor. While cattle
owners may individually believe in the
sanctity of the cow, the combined impact of their decisions, reflected in the
macro picture, is very different. The
macro picture suggests individual decisions on how many cattle of different
sexes and age they hold and when to
trade or otherwise dispose them of is
guided by their resource constraints,
priorities between draught power and
milk production, and the relative economics of rearing the cow as against the
buffalo for milk.
Role of Religion
Economic considerations, rather than
religion, determine these decisions at the
individual level. Most bovines are held
by agricultural households whose

capacity to maintain and care for animals varies. This varies with the size of
holdings: larger farms are better placed
in this respect than those with small
holdings. This is reflected in differences
in the numbers, variety and quality of
animals kept by different classes of holdings. A large proportion of smallholdings
(those with less than a hectare) cannot
afford to keep any bovines, or can keep
only a few bullocks or cows (and rarely
buffaloes) of older quality due to age or
other factors. The productivity of their
animals is lower even as they face greater chances of losing them due to disease
and age.
It is important to recognise that all
cattle owners irrespective of religion or
holding size will try and take care of
their animals as long as they are productive. If possible they will try to maintain
or improve their productive capacity by
replacing less efficient ones with better
quality stock through trade. Some, of
course, may die of neglect and disease.
In all these respects again, larger holdings are at a greater advantage. Smaller
holdings which hold poor quality
animals and are unable to provide them
adequate feed and care face greater risk
of them dying. A large proportion of
deaths among adult animals is due to

poor care and disease. But some, not


insignificant, part consists of dysfunctional and unproductive animals that
are abandoned or sold off. It is mostly
this category of animals that traders buy
and then send to abattoirs mainly to produce skins for which there is a lucrative
market and incidentally for other byproducts, including meat.
The changing size, species and gender
composition of bovine stock reflect
changing relative priorities in this respect. There is a reason to expect that the
declining requirements of bullocks will
lower the quality of their care, thereby
increasing their overall mortality and
reducing the age when they are deemed
to be unproductive. On the other hand,
increasing lactation efficiency and yields
of cows is likely to improve the quality of
care, lead to a longer productive life,
and reduce mortality overall and across
younger age groups. If, as is expected,
these recent trends continue, the magnitude of deaths and of unproductive animals, as well as their species, gender
and age composition, will change. It is
likely that the relative share of buffaloes
in overall mortality will increase and
that of cattle will decline. Possibly the
age at which bullocks are considered
unproductive will be reduced even as it

Review of Womens Studies


October 31, 2015
Rethinking Violence
Mary E John
Locating Hyderabad for Feminism in the Present
Tejaswini Madabhushi,
Struggle against Violence
Maranatha Grace T Wahlang, Gitanjali Joshua
Rape as Atrocity in Contemporary Haryana
Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression
Reporting Sexual Violence in India:
What Has Changed since the Delhi Gang Rape?
Divya Arya
Gathering Steam: Organising Strategies of the Indian Mens Rights Movement
Srimati Basu
Protection of Women from Domestic Violence
Flavia Agnes, Audrey DMello
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increases in the case of cows until the


structure gets stabilised. We do not have
the information necessary to quantify
the impact of these changes. This
requires deeper study based on more
detailed and reliable data and periodic
monitoring than is currently available.
Need to Review the Ban
The ban on cow slaughter is focused on
abattoirs that for the most part process
dysfunctional and unproductive cattle
discarded by their owners. It ignores the
fact that most deaths are not due to
deliberate killing but to disease and
neglect by owners marked by systematic
discrimination by gender. Whether there
is or whether there is no legal ban on
slaughter will make little difference to
the way the vast majority of cattle are
managed and to their well-being. In any
case, it is well known that the legal ban
on cow slaughter is ineffective. Despite
it, and the elaborate restrictions and
regulations to prevent abattoirs from
violating it, a significant number of
cattle (mostly old and dysfunctional
cows and bullocks) are in fact slaughtered here.
Part of the reason is that these laws
are in the domain of states: Some have
not imposed any legal ban, while the laws
of others differ in scope and content of
the ban (ambiguity in whether they apply
to cows only or to all cattle; differences
in age restrictions). There are elaborate
regulations to restrict transport of cattle
within and across regions, from markets
to abattoirs, ensuring transparency and
hygienic conditions in abattoirs and for
their site inspection to ensure that those
authorised process only buffaloes. But
notoriously weak enforcement makes
them ineffective leaving ample room for
illegal processing of cattle as well.
If enforcing a legal ban is impossible,
so is the alternative of corralling all old
and dysfunctional cattle and caring for
them in well-managed gau shalas till
they die naturally and in peace. One has
only to consider the logistics of identifying these animals dispersed widely across
villages and towns, the task of setting up
public gau shalas equipped to handle
such large and growing numbers, the
organisational problems of managing
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NOVEMBER 28, 2015

them, and above all finding the resources to meet their establishment and
management. Even if this were feasible
there remains the problem of how the
dead animals will be dealt with: old and
dysfunctional animals may be useless
for work or reproduction, but their hides,
bones, meat and other by-products are
useful for several other purposes.
Hides are perhaps the most valuable
as raw material for the leather and leather
products industry whose contribution to
the economys output, employment and
both in the domestic and export markets
is quite sizeable. (It is relevant to note
that a good part of raw hides for tanning
and leather processing industries is also
met from the carcasses of animals that
die in the care of owner households.)
That these are economically valuable
products for which there is a large and
profitable market both domestically and
abroad is the reason and inducement
for overt and covert violation of the
slaughter ban.
A properly regulated slaughter restricted to old and dysfunctional animals
is therefore justified. But clearly a drastic overhaul of the current regulatory
regime is imperative to ensure transparency and effective enforcement. The
extant anti-cow slaughter laws and
attendant regulations have to be rationalised by removing ambiguities about
the scope of the ban and clarifying the
conditions subject to which cattle slaughter will be allowed in abattoirs. Registration and licensing of all abattoirs
must be made mandatory and standards
of operation to ensure a clean and hygienic environment must be far more
stringent. Abattoirs must be required to
maintain complete and accurate accounts
of all operations, outputs and their disposition and submit periodic reports to
the regulatory authority subject to
surprise site inspection of compliance
subject to stringent penalties for violations. The regulatory authority to
enforce the law should be autonomous,
with an adequate professional staff empowered to punish violations. In all
these respects, a degree of comparability
of regulations across states would be
useful. But states that choose not to ban
cattle slaughter or sale of beef must be
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left free to do so because under the Constitution this decision is the prerogative
of the states.
Permitting cattle slaughter necessarily
results in the production of beef along
with skin and other products. But several
states have imposed a ban on production
and sale of beef. Disposing such an
important joint product of slaughter presents a problem. Both bans are questionable, as they go against the core values,
premises and commitment of the Constitution to accommodate and protect the
diversity of beliefs, customs and dietary
habits of various communities and regions
without discrimination. To impose a ban
on production and sale of beef based on
the faith of a particular religious group,
on all sections of the population, clearly
goes against the spirit of the Constitution. Even so, in practical terms, as long
as the ban imposed by any state is held
to be legal, it cannot be violated. But
abattoirs could be allowed to send the
beef to other states where there is no
such ban or exported to other countries.
This is a practical and pragmatic option
because the sale and consumption of
beef is not restricted in some important
states and because there is a large and
lucrative export demand for this meat.
However, the attempt to ban the consumption of beef by individuals within
the privacy of their homes with the
threat of punitive sanctions for violation
is an unacceptable intrusion into citizens fundamental right to choose what
kinds of food (including meat) they eat.
The recent tendency to use extralegal,
violent and intimidatory tactics by
vigilantes, on individuals even on
alleged use of beef in their homes, is
extremely worrisome and can have disastrous consequences. Unless checked
with a firm hand it can and as recent
experience has shown, will create or
aggravate social disharmony and spread
of political violence.
Note
1

Much of this research was done at the Centre


for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram. My monograph Bovine Economy in
India, published by CDS and Oxford & IBH in
1988 presents a comprehensive review of this
research and its findings. It also provides a
comprehensive bibliography of literature
available at that time.

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