Directive principle, not right: How cow protection became part of Constitution

Seema Chishti traces history of Constituent Assembly debates leading to Article 48

Written by Seema Chishti | Published:June 1, 2017 12:58 am
cow protection, cow slaughter While the Constitution itself is acknowledged to have a rational and secular tone, the debate on cow slaughter in the Constituent Assembly often took on majoritarian and religious overtones. (Representational)

Where does cow slaughter figure in the Constitution?

Prohibition of cow slaughter is part of the Constitution, under Article 48, “Organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry”, which reads: “The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.”

So is it a right?

No. It features in the Directive Principles of State Policy. Rather than a right, these are seen as high ideals or broad guidelines that governments should bear in mind while framing policy.

Another Directive Principle, for example, is Article 47: “The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties.”

What kind of debates in the Constituent Assembly led to this Article being inserted in the Constitution?

While the Constitution itself is acknowledged to have a rational and secular tone, the debate on cow slaughter in the Constituent Assembly often took on majoritarian and religious overtones. In the shadow of Partition, on November 24, 1948, the amendment to protect cows was made by a member from East Punjab, Pandit Thakur Dass Bhargava. To begin with, he argued from an economic point of view that was essential for a rational approach: “How can you improve your health and food position, if you do not produce full quota of cereals and milk? This amendment is divided into three parts. Firstly,the agriculture should be improved on scientific and modern lines. Secondly, the cattle breed should be improved; and thirdly, the cow and other cattle should be protected from slaughter. To grow more food and to improve agriculture and the cattle breed are all inter-dependent and are two sides of the same coin.”

Others, mostly leaders seen in the Hindu-conservative camp of the Congress, such as Seth Govind Das, Shibban Lal Saxena, Ram Sahai and Raghu Vira argued in the same vein.

How did the debate assume religious overtones?

Gradually, participants in the debate drew in the religion angle. R V Dhulekar said: “And our Hindu society, or our Indian society, has included the cow in our fold. It is just like our mother. In fact, it is more than our mother. I can declare from this platform that 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.”

Pandit Thakur Dass also spoke of Muslim emperors having banned the practice, when he said: “Babur, the first Mughal Emperor, told Humayun… ‘Refrain from cow slaughter to win the hearts of the people of Hindustan’.”

This drew a reaction from Muslim members, who were keen that this should not be seen as drawing a cleavage between so-called “cow-eating Muslims” and Hindus “who don’t”. Mohammed Saadullah from Assam and ZA Lari sought that the law should not leave it in the grey zone but should spell out clearly if slaughter was being banned for religious reasons and not economic ones. Sadullah said it must be made explicit that: “This is part of our religion. The cow should be protected from slaughter. I know that the vast majority of the Hindu nation revere the cow as their goddess and therefore they cannot brook the idea of seeing it slaughtered. I am a Muslim as everyone knows. In my religious book, the Holy Quran, there is an injunction to the Muslims saying – ‘La Ikraba fid Din’, or, there ought to be no compulsion in the name of religion.”

The Muslim members agreed to this being a Directive Principle. It is noteworthy that those advocating a ban did not want it to be a right. Ram Sahai of Madhya Bharat stated explicitly: “I also do not like, on my part, to make any proposal that may not receive the unanimous acceptance of the House nor a proposal which may lead to the curtailment of the freedom of the Provinces in this matter. Under the Directive Principles of State Policy, Provinces will have the power to stop cow slaughter totally or partially.”

What was the view on bullocks and bulls?

During the course of the voting on this amendment, which stated that bulls and bullocks too should be named explicitly, the amendment was “negatived”. It was only when it was not made explicit and limited to cows that the amendment was passed.

What about M K Gandhi’s views on cow protection?

Gandhi is invoked frequently in the course of the debate but his musings on cows and cow slaughter were nuanced and evolved over time. He asked people to focus on gau ‘seva’ or serving cows and not on protection or gau ‘raksha’. In 1921, he reflected: “I would not kill a human being for protecting a cow, as I will not kill a cow for saving a human life, be it ever so precious.” By 1946, Gandhi was clear that, “Cow slaughter can never be stopped by law. Knowledge, education, and the spirit of kindliness towards her alone can put and end to it.”

Were cows not the reason for the attack on Parliament by sadhus?

Yes. The MP from Karnal, Swami Rameshwaranand of the Bhartiya Jana Sangh, led a march of sadhus to Parliament on November 7, 1966, asking for a blanket, nationwide ban on cow slaughter. The siege on Parliament led to mayhem for the first time after Partition, with at least seven people killed in police firing.

Indira Gandhi, new as Prime Minister, sacked then home minister Gulzarilal Nanda, who was also affiliated with the Bharat Sadhu Samaj. After she won the Lok Sabha polls the following year, Indira Gandhi constituted a committee to look into the proposal for a national law to ban cow slaughter. It was headed by Justice A K Sarkar, then recently retired as Chief Justice of India.

Incidentally, then RSS chief M S Golwalkar too was a member of that committee, which was given six months to submit its recommendations. The committee never submitted its recommendations and was eventually wound up in 1979 when Morarji Desai was Prime Minister.

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