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Beef Politics – Cheap Protein Verses Religious Sentiments.

"The cow emerged as the 'Personality of the Year' in the Yahoo’s 2015 Year in Review (YIR) for India."

In a country too passionate about politicians, cricketers and movie stars, this must be weird, though sensational news.

But it is certainly not as India of 2015 had most of its quarrels, debates, negotiations and even legislations cornered around this humble cow and beef eating.

The beef controversy began with the Maharashtra government’s ban on beef sale, further fuelled by the Dadri mob lynching of Muhammad Akhlaq, father of an Indian Air Force staffer.

And thus, the ‘COW’ has become the hot debate of the most diverse country leading to ‘award wapsi’ campaign and stalling parliamentary proceedings too!

Beef is the culinary name for meat of bovines like buffalo, bull and ox apart from cow. However a more narrow interpretation is being created that it is only about cow meat.

The reality is most of Indian beef eaters generally eat “buff”, the technical term for Buffalo meat.

But, the concern and debate is only about COW.

There are religious reasons as well as constitutional safeguards to protect this designated pious animal.

Hinduism, the largest religion of India, respects cow as a creature of God. It is treated as the symbol of wealth, strength, abundance and selfless giving.

These beliefs have gained significant importance in the debates of the framers of our constitution. Some members wanted ban on cow slaughter to be under Fundamental Rights, but due to severe opposition from minorities and dalits, the consensus was achieved by inserting it into the Directive principle of State policy under Article-48 of the constitution.

Cow ban has gained support from India’s apex court too! In its 2005 verdict , the Supreme court upheld Gujarat’s total ban on cow slaughter, regardless of whether the bovine is useless or not.

Today, this situation is aggravated as many other states have also resorted to ban all kinds of bovine meat. These happenings have been welcomed by majority of Indians, but still a significant portion of households are quite unhappy and helpless on this issue.

According to the latest NSSO data, there are around 8 crore beef-eaters, spread across religions and states. Muslims are the biggest beef-eating community with around 6 crore people and Hindus are the second with around 1.2 crores, followed by Christians.

Among Hindus, SC/ST and poor families constitute the major part. This drags us to the important question -- Right to Religion versus Right to Food.

Beef is a cheap source of protein and fat for millions of malnourished families. The bovine meat costs below one-third the cost of mutton.

If its availability is at stake, the chances of anaemia will increase and a huge health hazard looms over the vulnerable demography of the country. This necessity of food has to be considered by the policy-makers.

Further, the legislations should also deal with alternatives to our globally competitive leather industry which provides employment to lakhs of people.

India is also the world’s second largest beef exporter after Brazil and the official bans will fuel underground business where cows are illegally transported to slaughter houses which don’t have any hygienic practices.

There are already about 30,000 illegal unlicensed slaughterhouses in India. These would sky-rocket the beef prices making the situation more pathetic for the poor consumers.

Thus, pushing for legislations without making holistic analysis and prejudiced opinions would turn out to be catastrophic in the long run. In 2015, the states of Maharashtra and J&K have made legislations banning all kinds of beef, joining the bandwagon of other states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

This has created communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims, escalated to the worse after Dadri lynching.

Mostly Muslims are being targeted for the decline of cow population, which is very wrong.

The real culprit is the poor Indian farmer. Yes! The more stringent the laws prohibiting slaughter, the less inclined farmers will be to rear these age-old cattle which are of no use for either draught or dairy farming.

The farmer is ultimately under no obligation to shoulder the cultural burden of saving the gomata without any compelling economic rationale.

A rational and widely acceptable solution is to focus on incentivizing farmers to rear cattle not just for economic reasons, but also to conserve the precious Germ-plasm of our finest indigenous cattle breeds like Ongole, Red Sindhi, Sahiwal, Tharparkar etc.

Along with this, a policy of strict licensing and regulating slaughter houses is necessary to sustain India’s White revolution and Pink evolution, which are mutually beneficial for the country’s growth.

An individual’s moral to not eat Beef cannot be made an ethical code of conduct to the entire society. Since the principles of ethics are more fundamental and stable, ethics is bigger than morality.

-Sri Harshith Rajam