A blow to the poor

The state BJP government’s insistence on pressing ahead with the bill to ban cattle slaughter can only be termed as mulish. Despite the widespread popular opposition to the bill, the government has rushed through the legislation in both the Houses of the state legislature, taking advantage of the crisis into which the Houses plunged over the past few days. The pleas emanating from a wide spectrum of public opinion including the civil society, intellectuals, ordinary people, not to speak of the Opposition, have been brushed aside by the government which is pursuing an obsolete agenda which many have termed anti-people. The basis for the bill is as yet not established. The argument that slaughtering cattle for beef is endangering cows in the country is too facile. Even if one buys the argument that the cattle population, indeed, is dwindling, it is not the meat industry that is responsible for such a denouement. The demands of intensive agriculture meant that tractors replaced cattle for draught power for tillage and carriage. The burgeoning dairy industry replaced the native cows so revered by the state government with cross-bred milch animals. It is a measure of the woolly thinking of the government that these factors are not discussed about.

Indeed, if the bill becomes law, slaughter of cattle of any kind would attract draconian punishment. Farmers who have traditionally sent their aged and unproductive cattle to abattoirs cannot do so any more, nor can the marginalised communities in villages use dead cattle for food, as the law forbids transport, sale or possession of cattle meat. The crisis in agriculture is already witnessing an unrelenting suicide spree by thousands of small and marginal farmers. This harebrained law will place on our exploited farmers the completely needless burden of having to look after aged cattle.

Beef is food of a majority of extremely poor people. It is the cheapest protein available to the economically vulnerable sections of society. The other meats available in the market are unaffordable for a large part of our population. If the government is serious about passing its cretinous law, it also has the moral responsibility of providing the people with an alternative. It will be expected, for instance, to supply mutton or poultry for the poor at the current price of beef. If that is not possible, indeed it is not, the government has no moral right to press on with this legislation.

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