The prevention of cow slaughter in India has often found its supporters invoke Article 48 of theConstitution to suggest that it has legal basis. There is no central legislation on cow slaughter in India, but several states in the country have enacted laws citing Article 48, allowing those who demand such a ban to hide behind the garb of economic considerations.
Article 48 is a Directive Principle of State Policy. Directive principles were envisaged as a means for the state to strive towards the greater good of the nation.
So what does Article 48 say?
â€śOrganization 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 the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattleâ€ť.
At the Constituent Assembly, Pandit Thakur Dass Bhargava and Seth Govind Das proposed economic reasons to demand the ban on cow slaughter. Bhargava said,
â€śTo grow more food and to improve agriculture and the cattle breed are all interdependent and are two sides of the same coin. The best way of increasing the production is to improve the health of human beings and breed of cattle, whose milk and manure and labour are most essential for growing food. From both points of view, of agriculture and food, protection of the cow becomes necessary.â€ť
But, there were members of the constituent assembly who found fault with this economic rationale, suggesting that if the slaughter of cattle was objectionable to the Hindus than it should be laid down suggesting that fact as opposed to making suggestions that there is economic validity. Many argued that the wording merely masks the underlying upper-caste Hindu sentiment behind the legislation.
Further, the wording gives rise to questions worth considering. Chief among these is: Is there indeed an economic reason to preserve cows, calves and other milch and draught cattle after they have been used for a period of time?
Article 48 speaks of â€śmodern and scientific linesâ€ť which if interpreted in the current context, should give weight to the fact that a large amount of â€ścattle dependentâ€ť work in farming has reduced with technological advancement.
The argument for the protection of cows has been researched by academics in the last decade. In a report published earlier this year in February, comparisons were made between findings of several scholars researching the economic centrality of cows in rural households and farms.
The latest report published by Esther Gehrke and Michael Grimm seems to concur with findings of MV Dandekar / KN Raj who published their research in 1969. Both were firmly of the view that the practice of cow worship actually stood in the way of a more rational utilization of Indiaâ€™s bovine resources.
In KN Rajâ€™s report based on a detailed study of UP, Bihar and Kerala he suggests â€śâ€¦it is in the Indo-Gangetic valley (particularly in the States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar), where Hindu orthodoxy is deeply entrenched and the sentiment against the killing of cows is strongest, that the pressure of human and bovine population on resources makes it most necessary to get rid of cows in preference for bulls for traction purposes and she buffaloes for milk. It is also significant that two of the States where cows are preferred relative to bullocks (Kerala and Kashmir) have higher percentages of non-Hindus among their population than any other State. Recurrent agitations against cow slaughter appear to be based on such sentiment and on the desire of political parties to exploit it for their own purposes, in either case not on any realistic understanding of the economic interests and actual behaviour of the people who would have to support the unwanted cattle.â€ť
He went on to suggest that the only role religion played was in determining the method of getting rid of unwanted cattle. Rather than sending cows to slaughterhouses, north Indian farmers preferred a method of slow death through deliberate starvation or even abandonment (giving rise to several reports about cowâ€™s being smuggled to slaughterhouses in Bangladesh). He also pointed out that in the cattle population below 3 years of age, the number of female to male animals is much higher than in the adult cattle population in both Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The claims that his paper make concur with the most recent research that clearly point out that cattle farmers living close to urban settlements were likely to keep more and better breeds of cattle because they could sell dairy products in nearby markets more easily, while villagers in remote areas were likely to invest in fewer, less productive, and cheaper cattle as the milk generated would largely be used for self-consumption.
In such a situation a complete ban fails on both economic and religious grounds. If economics were at play the choice farmers make has a lot more to do with their economic ability than their religious belief. If one views this through a religious lens, is the starving of older cattle so as to ensure a slow death not worse than using such cattle for the production of a meat that such a large segment of the population is dependent on?
Further, there are other legal questions that can be raised about Article 48. As KL Daswani, an advocate in the Bombay High Court says, â€śA directive principle like the one in Article 48 is extremely inconsistent. Given the number of beef consumers in the country and the fact that Indiaâ€™s beef exports are the highest in the world, a complete ban on cattle slaughter is unlikely to be for the greater good. Directive principles can only trump fundamental rights in a circumstance where it is conclusively proven that the principle is for the greater good of society.â€ť