The Beef Ban : A Reality check

‘Animals share with us the privilege of having a soul’, said Pythagoras, an avid vegetarian; and while not much is known about Leonardo Da Vinci, his love for animals is well documented. Right from the epochs of Voltaire, Gautam Buddha and Plato to the more recent times of Leo Tolstoy, Mary Shelley (whose famous monster Frankenstein was also vegetarian) Franz Kafka, George Bernard Shaw, and of course Gandhi; vegetarianism has been followed and practised as a way of life that furthers civility and non-violence.

It is astonishing then, that the passing centuries have done little to aid the widespread acceptance of vegetarianism. What is even more surprising is that a left-liberal/liberal audience, our ideal ‘target audience’, is the largest voice in dismissing the recent ban on beef in Maharashtra, under the ostensible guises of politics, religion, economy, health and moral superiority.

Amongst the mad spectacle of outrage that ensued the Beef Ban, some facts seem to have been missed. To begin with, there is ‘nothing new’ about a beef ban in India.States like Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and even Jammu & Kashmir have a blanket ban of any type of bovine slaughter.[1]

With regards to Maharashtra, the ban on the slaughter of cows has been in existence since 1976, the only additions from the amendment are the cessation of slaughter on ‘bull and bullocks’, and an increase in fine payable in case of possession. The amendment still allows for buffaloes to be slaughtered, even though, purely from an animal rights perspective, they are as abused, neglected and tortured as the cows. Therefore, the real changes in terms of practical implications from this ‘ban’ are very much debatable.

One of the more nuanced insights out of the ban is that currently the gap between an understanding of human and animal rights is very wide. Animal rights are largely a matter kept out of civil society dialogue, and we’ve not managed to shake our position for some time now – we are still on the periphery of the periphery. The need to bring about an understanding and discourse of ‘speciesism’ to popular culture alongside other ills such as racism, sexism and casteism seems to be the need of the hour.

The second insight that can be traced is the need for a strategy that shifts from one that is ‘anthropocentric’ (the belief that human beings are the most significant species on this planet) to something more holistic in nature. An anthropocentric philosophy puts animal rights as a supplementary benefit to a different primary benefit. As an example, it may say that we should stop the consumption of meat for reasons of health and the environment. (Or, as is being stated here, for religious and political reasons) This methodology is a flawed one because long term change from an animal rights perspective is only possible through an understanding of the needs that benefit animals, and not other humans, as other changes may be easily reversed. (The chances of a person consuming organic meat are extremely high if the path of veganism/vegetarianism has been chosen solely for environmental reasons.)

Thus, let this ban and the debate around it be a good wakeup call to the Indian Animal Community to steer towards a movement that is popular, that demands animal rights and does not apologise for them, and that talks about animal protection for the benefit of the animals and not human beings. Let us move towards a stronger animal rights protection lobby and a stronger popular voice.

[1] For a detailed look at the laws regarding cattle slaughter in India, look here :- http://www.dahd.nic.in/dahd/reports/report-of-the-national-commission-on-cattle/chapter-ii-executive-summary/annex-ii-8.aspx