Killing a cow in the Central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh now attracts a seven-year jail term, after recent amendments to the existing law. The accused in a case involving the slaughter of a cow would now get a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment instead of the previous three years, and may have to bear a minimum fine of Rs 5,000, which may be increased by the court after due consideration of the gravity of the crime, said a press release of the state government.
Madhya Pradesh is ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP amended the existing law to make punishments harsher for anyone, Hindu or not, who slaughter cows. Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Gujarat have laws against killing cows, while Andhra Pradesh and Orissa allow slaughter of cattle except cows. States such as Kerala and Nagaland however, permit cow slaughter.
The Madhya Pradesh Cow Progeny Slaughter Prevention (Amendment) Bill, which was granted assent by Indian President Pratibha Patil, places the burden of proof on the defense/accused to prove his innocence, unlike the law’s predecessor, which placed the onus on the prosecution to prove guilt of the accused.
The amended Act provides that “no person shall slaughter or cause to be slaughtered or offered for slaughter of any cow progeny by any means”. Additionally, the law also provides that “no person including transporter shall transport or offer for transport or cause to be transported any cow progeny himself or by his agent, servant or by any other person acting in his behalf within the State or outside the State for the purpose of its slaughter in contravention of the provisions of this Act or with the knowledge that it will be or is likely to be slaughtered”.
Abuse and Cruelty
25-year-old Anish Aslam Qureshi is a Muslim cattle trader. He was beaten and part of his head and half his moustache shaved off by a Hindu organization - Bajrang Dal workers in Chhindwara district recently. His only fault was that he refused to give money to them to allow him to transport cattle, which the attackers alleged were meant for slaughter.
Under the amended law, it is illegal to slaughter cows or to transport the beasts outside the state or possess beef.
While talking to “Islam Online”, Anish Aslam Qureshi said, “They were demanding money from me. When I refused they damaged my pick-up vehicle and took me to a nearby village. I was beaten black and blue and then part of my head and moustache (was) shaved off.”
He was rescued by police, but charged with unlawful transportation of cattle for slaughter under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. He was later released on bail. The Bajrang Dal activists who allegedly beat him were charged with minor offenses and released on the same day from the police station. Qureshi now plans to fight back in court.
Jubilation in Hindu Camp
The new law has led to jubilation in the Hindu camp. A majority of Hindus in India worship cows – a cultural tradition often imagined to be threatened by beef-eating Muslims.
Hindu’s are the largest religious group in Madhya Pradesh, and minority groups who do eat beef make up 8 percent of the population.
Bajrang Dal activist Ashutosh Jaiswal while welcoming the new law said, “The law was necessary to preserve Hindu culture. We treat cows as our mother and would not allow killing them. We are happy that Madhya Pradesh is the first state in the country where punishment for cow slaughter is at maximum”, he said to “Islam Online”.
But, apprehensions have been raised by many about the misuse of the Act, and harassment of people from minority communities by the police. The provision gives immense powers to police and prosecution.
Rastriya Secular Manch (National Secular Manch) convener LS Herdenia has deplored this new law. “Their main objective is to divide and polarize the society. They can walk into your house and charge you for eating beef. They will take you and prosecute you someday. In the name of beef eating they can enter your house and charge you with anything”, he told “Islam Online”.
Father Anand Muttungal, a Catholic Church spokesman said that the cow protection law deliberately targets certain communities. While talking to “Islam Online”, he said “If you look at this law, it has certain provisions which can badly affect certain communities. There could be large scale misuse and violation of the law, which has not been checked. Certain provisions have to be amended.” He further added, “There would be misuse. The policeman has a right to enter anywhere and anytime. I being a Christian, I know many cases where false cases have been lodged against Christians accusing them of conversions. Not a single case has been proved so far. It can be used to target a particular community.”
However, the government dubbed the apprehensions baseless. Minister for Animal Husbandry Ajay Bishnoi said that there was no loophole in the Act, and no chances of violation of the law.
Cow Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh
The BJP government is setting up a cow sanctuary spread over 500 acres of land in Susner city of Shajapur district to house cows and other bovine species, freed by Hindu organizations like Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
In the state of Madhya Pradesh, it has been a common practice for hard-line Hindu activists to ‘raid’ vehicles carrying cows and abandon the animals after taking the action against the driver. The sanctuary would have large grazing areas for such animals and they would be released there for the rest of their lives.
Asserting that the state Cow Progeny Slaughter Prevention Act would be implemented strictly in the state, Vishnoi said that the act would ensure prevention and punishment of those involved in slaughter of any cow progeny species within the state.
The amended Act also has provisions specifying actions for feeding and rearing the cow progeny. Another specialty of this Act is that any police officer not below the rank of head constable or any person authorized in this behalf by competent authority shall have the power of entry, inspection, search and seizure and to present the case in the court, added the state government release.