Police officer Javed Khan feeds his adopted cow near his home in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh | Photo: Anindito Mukherjee | Bloomberg
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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.


Also read: Muslims In India have sought ban on cow slaughter for decades. But politics didn’t allow it


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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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:

  1. There are lakhs of Muslims who do not eat cow’s flesh.
  2. It is Hindus who sold their cattle to Muslims for slaughter.
  3. Islam does not specifically say that you must sacrifice cow: it only permits it.
  4. 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”).
  5. 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.


Also read: Farmers need more than just ‘shraddha’ to keep cattle, says cow commission chief Kathiria


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.

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6 Comments Share Your Views

6 COMMENTS

  1. The reputation of Muslims is tarnished by some members of the saffron brigade. No one needs cow slaughter because it is detrimental to economic interest of the country. The productive cows and buffaloes have to be protected banning their slaughter. There is no religious divide on this issue. The present trend of blaming and defaming Muslims in general terms for cow slaughter should stop. Lynching people only on suspicion should be made a crime and all those who resort to lynching should be punished severely. Criminal laws of the country should be amended to prevent this crime.

  2. Review: The British Origin of Cow-Slaughter in India
    With Some British Documents on the Anti-Kine-Killing Movement 1880-1894, Dharampal & T. M. Mukundan, Published by SIDH, Price Rs. 495 (PB)
    Dharampal’s works have consistently challenged the prevalent mainstream understanding and belief about the nature and functioning of Indian society and polity before the arrival of the British. His work has stimulated a radically fresh perspective on the nature, design, functioning and organisation of Indian society. It shows that the system bequeathed by the British must be seen as an alien imposition and India cannot revive and renew herself unless she rediscovers her own genius, talents and traditions. Some of his well-known works include: The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century; Indian Science and Technology in the Eighteenth Century; Civil Disobedience and Indian Tradition, etc.

    This latest book by Dharampal is about one of the most significant movements in India, against kine-killing by the British, during the nineteenth century. The enormity of this movement and the threat it posed to the British may be gauged by the statement of Viceroy Lansdowne when he said that: “I doubt whether, since the Mutiny, any movement containing in it a greater amount of potential mischief has engaged the attention of the Government of India.”

    While it may be generally known that a very large number of the cow and its progeny were daily slaughtered by the British for their army and civilian personnel in India from about 1750 onwards, very little is known, even to most scholars and historical researchers on India, about this India-wide anti-kine-killing movement against the British during 1880-1894. Even those among the few scholars who have taken some note of this movement have treated it as a Hindu-Muslim conflict. But such was not the case, as the documents presented in this book show that many prominent Muslims as well as the Parsis and Sikhs actively participated in the movement. The fact that the movement was directed against the British and not against the Muslims, as commonly believed, was very clear to Queen Victoria and her high-ranking officers. Queen Victoria says in a letter to Viceroy Lord Lansdowne, “Though the Muhammadan’s cow killing is made the pretext for the agitation, it is, in fact, directed against us, who kill far more cows for our army, etc., than the Muhammadans.”

    This book counters the general impression that Muslims in India eat the flesh of cow, which is perhaps a myth perpetuated by the British. Though the Muslim community was encouraged to take up the slaughter of cattle, as the large number slaughterhouses set up by the British required professional butchers, but a majority of the immigrant Muslims, as well as the converted, seldom did take to eating of cow flesh. This is borne out by many clippings from the Urdu press as well as from the correspondence between British officials of that period, as documented in this book. The British tried their best, and largely succeeded in projecting this movement, which was in the words of Lansdowne himself ‘political’ in nature, to one which now appears to the educated Indian as a conflict between Hindus and Muslims.

    This book, based on British documents, unfolds the story of this momentous movement.

  3. Gururaj,

    The answer is that small farmers do tend to the cows till they die. Unlike you, who is only a bhogi (consumer), small farmers are palanhar (caregivers) too, and as such form a bond with the animals they rear.

    My grandparents used to keep cows and we never abandoned any cow, until my grandparents grew too old to care for them. Then the couple cows they had at the time were sold.

  4. Hindus should be aware of these Muslims’ crocodile tears for cow slaughter ban.After slaughtering thousands of Hindus and native Indians.They are now pretending before you,hindus.

  5. I am a vegetarian and rever cow nominally as a part of religious rites. But, I have always wondered how can a farmer be expected to support an unproductive cow for its lifetime. Don’t give sentimental stuff like “Cow is like a mother, would you sell your mother when she becomes old”? It is an economic problem for a farmer. Secondly, how does one dispose of the caracass of cows. None eats dead animal’s meat? When I made similar comments elsewhere, some responded saying that charitable goushalas take in such cows. But, is that a permanent remedy for disposal of cows, dead or alive? I haven’t found satisfactory answer.

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