“In banning slaughter of cattle, governments are only respecting public sentiment. But the economic argument for the ban, and more so the ecological argument, is still stronger. The Hindutva argument only adds to what ecology, economics and sentiment across communities and history strongly urge any popular ruler.” – Balbir Punj
The so-called Dalit organisations who were seeking to mock at the beef ban by organising a beef fest in Kolkata must first take a look at what happened to the beef exporting countries like Brazil. Let us put aside, for the time being, the other equally serious case for the ban.
The economic case is so compelling that this alone is enough reason for any rational government to end the red meat export and by implication the slaughter of cattle to feed the export industry. Forget the sentimental aspect or religious taboos about beef eating, though equally compelling. We deal with it later.
The fundamental question is do we consciously promote desertification of the country just because our population relishes beef meat. Desertification is what happened to large grasslands and forests of Amazonian Brazil and other South American countries. Moved by the greed of red meat export incomes, they went all-out converting forest lands into grazing grounds.
Brazil and other South American countries, like Costa Rica, Honduras and Argentina in the 70s and 80s began feverishly to build up huge ranches for cattle breeding for the North American meat market. Millions of acres of forest land were converted into farms for raising grain for the fattening of the cattle, mainly cows, for slaughter and meat packing for export. The initial years brought wealth but soon nature took over. Rainfall decreased, the topsoil began to be washed out by floods that followed destruction of forests. The use of land to grow grains for cattle feeding and grasslands for cattle grazing had other unforeseen economic effects.
“The astounding concentration of land ownership has left 4.8 million rural families completely landless, not to mention millions of rural families who abandoned the countryside for urban slums,” wrote the authors of World Hunger: the 12 Myths. More details are there in environmentalist Vandana Shiva’s Stolen Harvest.
Even more authentic condemnation of the cattle for meat industry came from a UN report after satellite imageries exposed vast forests lying barren and Brazil, a country much larger than India, finding floods and droughts devastating its economy. The governments in South America finally halted the cattle-slaughter-for-money industry after the UN intervened and other political convulsions hit them hard.
The Left intellectuals who are raising a hue and cry over the beef ban causing a crisis in the pharma industry, as the gelatin needed for making capsules comes from animal bones, are misleading the country. Natural death of cattle could provide those raw materials.
To those who counter the ban by posing the non-value of cattle beyond its fertility limit as a drain on farming families that have cattle for milk, the answer has come from the global dangers of fossil fuel use for generating energy. The government—irrespective of the party in power—has to ensure that by 2050 use of fossil fuels like coal and gas is cut sharply by 50 per cent.
To replace fossil fuel with renewable sources like solar cell, wind and biogas as the main sources we would need cattle dung as well as vegetable wastes. So cattle entering their dry stage is not a burden if systemic arrangements are made for their upkeep and their waste utilised properly.
The argument for slaughter of cows on grounds of economic utility is specious when the governments spend millions and set up an entire system to protect wildlife—from tigers to turtles. The contrast when we are asked to slaughter cattle and prosecute those who shoot the tiger is striking. Sentiments apart.
But even sentiments count when sections of the people have their preferences. In Europe or America, you talk of slaughtering dogs to feed dog meat lovers or even to control the canine population growth and you are sure to be emotionally lynched in a media howl of protests.
So all countries respect sentiment whether it is regarding dogs or rabbits; so why oppose the ban on slaughter of cattle as “old-fashioned”, “irrational” or “sentimental”? The Left intellectuals and self-styled rationalists have made it a habit to claim that during the Vedic period, beef was widely eaten.
Just to end this argument, let us accept that it might have been so. But does it mean we should accept beef eating as customary now, despite the changed environment between some 7000 years ago and now? Many practices including untouchability that had religious sanction till some two centuries before have been not only abandoned but constitutionally forbidden. Or burning widows on the pyre of their husbands. Sadly, those who are vehemently opposing several traditions in the country are the very people who are arguing for beef eating on the strength of tradition!
The other argument about religion is even more suspect. Certain minority communities regularly consume beef; many are traditionally butchers, so you cannot deny the minorities their preference or jobs or both. The fact seems to be that cow slaughter was widely banned by tradition as well as by royal decrees for ages in this land. From Ashoka to Akbar, there is documentary evidence of royal bans on slaughter of cows and its progeny. When Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was reinstated for a short while on the Delhi throne following the 1857 war against the British raj, the very first “firman” he issued was to reinforce ban on cow slaughter.
That leads us to a historic truth that has been buried with many other traditions of the country after the colonial powers began to gain ascendency. From the Portuguese to the British, it is the Western colonials who wanted beef. This colonial entry is what is now being touted as “minority food preferences”.
The argument against the ban as a denial of a fundamental right has no leg to stand on. There could be no freedom to go against the sentiments of vast majority of a country that attributes sanctity to a large and domestic animal like the cow that is so much part of millions of households.
Governments in the last 60 years have banned Salman Rushdie’s book because a section of the people—not the majority—demanded it. The same argument was put forward to ban Taslima Nasrin’s book. The Central Board of Film Censors has banned countless films.
In banning slaughter of cattle, governments are only respecting public sentiment. But the economic argument for the ban, and more so the ecological argument, is still stronger. The Hindutva argument only adds to what ecology, economics and sentiment across communities and history strongly urge any popular ruler. – The New Indian Express, 4 April 2015
» Balbir Punj is a senior journalist. He is a member of the Rajya Sabha representing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). On 31 March 2013, he was promoted as one of the Vice Presidents of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
According to some historians, the domesticated cow appeared first in Egypt where it was protected and worshipped as an embodiment of the Goddess Hathor.
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