The BJP government in Madhya Pradesh comes down on cow slaughter with an exceptionally stringent law. The Gau-Vansh Vadh Pratishedh (Sanshodhan) Act,which has received the presidential assent,makes cow slaughter a serious offence liable for punishment up to seven years. Even transport of cows to slaughter or storing of beef could invite punishment of varying degrees.
Prohibition on the killing of cows and consumption of beef has been a contentious issue,arraigning the far-right,Hindutva groups against those who question the right of the state to determine what animal meat one should not eat,especially in a country with diverse eating habits. This came to a head in 1966 with the anti-cow slaughter agitation in Delhi. Cow slaughter is banned in many states Gujarat,for instance,passed the Animal Preservation Act in October 2011,according to which killing of cows is prohibited along with buying,selling and transport of beef. In some other states,such as Orissa and Andhra Pradesh,butchering of cattle other than cows is allowed,if a fit-for-slaughter certificate is provided. In West Bengal and Kerala,on the other hand,consumption of beef is not deemed an offence.
What is of concern about the MP law,among other things,is this particular provision: For the purpose of enforcing the provisions of this act,the competent authority or any person authorised by the competent authority… shall have powers to enter and inspect any premises within the local limits of his jurisdiction where he has reasons to believe that an offence under this act has been,is being,or is likely to be committed and shall take necessary action. When an authority has the power to barge into homes and hotels based not on evidence but a supposition that an offence could be committed it opens itself to abuse and,consequently,harassment of individuals and groups. This,again,needs to be seen in context: under this act,the onus is on the accused to prove his or her innocence. Ironically,the MP government passed the new cow slaughter law,and thereby stepped up its cow politics,for the sake of what it called public interest and communal harmony. This illiberal law could have the exact opposite effect. It calls for a strong legal challenge.