Holy cow!

Holy cow!

The anti-cow slaughter legislation enacted by the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh is too stringent to be a normal law in any part of the country.

The bill passed by the state assembly has got presidential assent and has come into force. It in effect treats cow slaughter at par with a national  security issue and equates a person who is suspected of eating beef with a terrorist. Laws banning cow slaughter exist in many states in the country.

Gujarat passed a law last  year which banned killing of cows and buying and selling of beef. There are other states with provisions of law of varying stringency. In some states killing of cattle other than cows is allowed if they are officially certified to be fit or slaughter. There are also states, like Kerala and West Bengal, where there is no ban on cow slaughter.

Madhya Pradesh has gone farther than all states in prescribing the most stringent punishment for violation of the provisions of the law. Cow slaughter and eating of beef can attract seven years’ imprisonment. Transport of cows and storing of beef can also be punished with prison terms.

What makes the law most draconian is that it empowers officials to enter into homes or other premises on suspicion that an offence under the act has been or may be committed there. Worse, it is for the accused to prove his or her innocence in a court of law. Such provisions do not pass legal muster even in the case of more serious crimes.

In any law-abiding society where the rights of citizens are respected the onus of proof of the commission of a crime is on the prosecution. The provisions are bound to be misused in a politically riven society where law the enforcers are themselves not above board. Cow slaughter has been an emotive issue and it can be easily used to harass and persecute sections of people, especially minorities.

The deleterious effect of the law was immediately seen when Bajrang Dal activists attacked a Muslim cattle trader’s son after he refused to pay them money. The police have registered a case against the man and not against those who attacked him. There will be more such cases in future where innocent people will be hauled up before the law and even punished. The law’s political intent and its divisive impact on society will not be missed.

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