The cow slaughter and beef ban have led to many incidents of violence targeting India’s Muslims in recent years, emboldened by the political climate of Hindutva. Even when Muslim leaders like Uttar Pradesh’s Azam Khan have called for a national beef ban, the popular Hindu vilification of Muslims as beef-eaters and cow smugglers doesn’t die down.
But it is not just Azam Khan or other Muslims today. Many Indians still don’t know there were two prominent Muslim leaders in India’s Constituent Assembly who had advocated for a national ban on cow slaughter.
– “It’s better to come forward and incorporate a clause in Fundamental Rights that cow slaughter is henceforth prohibited, rather than it being left vague in the Directive Principles…,” said Zahir-ul-Hasan Lari, in the Constituent Assembly, 24 November 1948.
– “I do not also want to obstruct the framers of our Constitution, if they come out in the open and say directly: “This is part of our religion. The cow should be protected from slaughter and therefore we want its provision either in the Fundamental Rights or in the Directive Principles,” said Syed Muhammad Saadulla, in the same debate.
They spoke on behalf of the Muslim community, arguing in favour of a complete ban on cow slaughter.
Lari and Saadulla’s arguments were in response to an amendment moved by Congress leader Thakur Das Bhargava. The amendment later became Article 48 of the Indian Constitution, and is part of the Directive Principles of State Policy. It held out three points for the government to ensure. First, agriculture and animal husbandry should be improved using modern and scientific methods; second, cattle breeds should be preserved and improved; and three, the slaughter of cows, calves and other milch and draught cattle should be prohibited. It was left to the states to legislate on this matter, that’s why India has different rules regarding cow slaughter in different states.
Different motives, same objective: Ban
This amendment was brought as a compromise as many members of the Constituent Assembly were demanding a complete ban on cow slaughter. They were arguing for making it a part of the chapter on Fundamental Rights. Members like R.V. Dhulekar, Thakur Das Bhargava, Seth Govind Das, Ram Sahai, Raghu Vira, and Shibban Lal Saksena spoke in favour of a ban on cow slaughter.
Their main arguments were:
- Indian economy is based on agriculture and to grow more food, we must save cows from slaughter because they provide manure and are also used in tilling the land. They concluded that no cows should be killed even when they become useless.
- The second argument for seeking a ban was driven by the religious belief of the Hindu majority population. One of the members, Raghunath Vinayak Dhulekar, who had in 1946 presented a bill demanding Hindi be declared India’s national language, almost appeared to be justifyingviolence and lynching in the name of cow during the Constituent Assembly debate in November 1948. “There are thousands of persons who will not run at a man to kill that man for their mother or wife or children, but they will run at a man if that man does not want to protect the cow or wants to kill her,” Dhulekar had said.
But the Muslim members said this matter should be settled once and for all. They said Indian Muslims will readily accept the ban, and their arguments were primarily based on five factors:
- There are lakhs of Muslims who do not eat cow’s flesh.
- It is Hindus who sold their cattle to Muslims for slaughter.
- Islam does not specifically say that you must sacrifice cow: it only permits it.
- If the majority community wants a ban on cow slaughter because of its religious belief, then the ban should be incorporated as a fundamental right. There should not be any scope for ambiguity. Quoting from the Quran, Saadulla said that there should be no compulsion in the name of religion (“La Ikraha fid Deen”).
- The Muslim community favours a ban on cow slaughter out of regard for cordial relations with the Hindu community, and to avoid animosity, especially at the time of Bakrid.
Both Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly, Lari and Saadulla, had demolished the idea that the demand for a ban on cow slaughter had anything to do with economy or agriculture. (Their complete arguments can be read here.)
At the end of the discussion, it was left to the states to legislate or not legislate in the matter of cow slaughter and thus we find the provision of animal welfare in the chapter of the Directive Principles of State Policy. The argument that clinched the day was provided by the chairperson of the Drafting Committee, Dr B.R. Ambedkar. He argued that animals can’t have fundamental rights as these rights are meant only for citizens.
The debate continues
A nation’s foundational debate is the one that takes place over its Constitution. It is and should be not only part of the nation’s collective memory but also its narrative template. But not only have Indians deliberately forgotten the intervention of Muslim leaders in this debate seven decades ago, the issue of cow slaughter ban has still not been settled in the 21st century. The apprehensions Lari and Saadulla raised in the Constituent Assembly debate was that if this issue remains wide open, it will result in violence.
Muslim leaders are still saying the same. Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan, during a discussion on slaughterhouses in Uttar Pradesh Assembly, said that, “Cow slaughter should be banned across the country…No one should be slaughtered. What is legal and illegal slaughter? I want all the slaughterhouses to be banned. No animals should be cut.”
It was an awkward situation, in which a Muslim legislator was calling for imposing a ban on cow slaughter and a BJP minister, Sidharth Nath Singh, was trying to send across the message that “those who have licenses (to run slaughterhouses) have nothing to fear” from the government’s investigation.
The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.