I have been actively participating in Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (Karnataka State Farmers Movement, or KRRS) for over 20 years. One of my earliest memories is of a beef biriyani party organised in front of the state assembly by KRRS and our allies in defiance of Brahminist vegetarian purity. This and other colorful agitations, including ‘simple self-respect’ weddings organised under a collective banner called ‘Jaati Vinaasha Vedike’ (platform for caste abolition) in villages to promote inter-caste and inter-religious weddings, have been a few yet noteworthy efforts by KRRS against Brahminism and for a caste-free society.
Recently, the BJP-RSS combine has undemocratically passed a Brahminical anti-cow slaughter law called Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2020 in order to appeal to its sectarian vote base. When the bill failed to achieve a majority in the state legislative council, they used the route of an ordinance after which the governor cleared it. The reason that this law has been passed in Karnataka today is because it is a BJP-run state whose leaders are eager to make their mark with their masters at the Centre.
Skewed logic to destroy livelihoods
This law is not new but was already attempted in 2010 by the current chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa when he was in power then amidst huge opposition. Ex-chief minister Siddharamaiah, a vocal critic of such laws, and himself a Bahujan, had shelved it in 2013 after he came to power.
A less stringent version of an older law, the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964 was in place allowing the selective slaughter of cattle with some restrictions. This new law now goes much beyond to become one of the most stringent laws in the country – imposing a blanket ban on all slaughter, and consumption of all bovine meat in the state including buffaloes under 13 years old.
Karnataka government has passed these ordinances claiming it is constitutionally obliged to prevent cow slaughter. This is because Article 48 of the constitution is a directive principle and deals with animal husbandry, reads as follows:
“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.”
But, it is important to note that a directive principle is just a broad guideline and not meant to be enforceable by law.
Another directive principle, for instance, Article 47 is contradictory to this, and reads: “The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people.”
If the state decides to ban the consumption of beef then it is hindering access to nutrition for a large number of minorities and Bahujans for whom bovine meat is a major source of protein.
Another directive principle, Article 39d recommends equal pay for women and men. But, have we seen such enthusiasm from the state government in enforcing such other principles?
This shows that the government is cashing in to selectively appeal to a majoritarian sentiment and hyper-nationalism, rather than any real concern for its constitutional obligations.
The law will destroy the livelihoods of many from rural areas dependent on bovine rearing, processing and consumption – cattle herders, dairy farmers, butchers and leatherworkers. It is a direct attack on beef-eating peoples and the food cultures of Karnataka.
Vigilante attacks and widespread protests
The BJP has actively created fear in society. BJP workers in Karnataka have issued several threats that no beef will leave the state, tacitly giving a signal to self-styled vigilante gaurakshaks (so-called cow protectors) to sniff out and attack anyone who may even be perceived to be consuming, transporting, or selling cattle.
In a first under the law, the police have already arrested a truck driver attacked by a vigilante group for transporting cattle. While such vigilantism by ‘cow protectors’ has been ongoing in Karnataka for several years now, this law will prevent any action against them as it protects “persons acting in good faith” to prevent cow slaughter.
BJP has already warned that other south Indian states like Telangana will soon face a similar fate. This is in line with their national agenda to harmonise such laws across the country.
We have no doubt that the indigenous cattle of India have dwindled steadily over the years. Such laws will further reduce bovine populations even more since farmers have nowhere to sell their older cows and buffaloes, thus reducing their ability to rear them. This is already happening in BJP-ruled states. If BJPreally cared about protecting cows, it should allow farmers to rear them and sell them and allow consumption of beef to continue.
KRRS has been promoting different versions of agroecology in our state to encourage the use of indigenous cattle dung and urine. This is being done as a means to conserve indigenous cattle breeds and to integrate them into farming. We believe that agroecological farming that integrates bovines is a good way to conserve local cow breeds, and certainly not by criminalising beef consumption or slaughter.
Karnataka’s farmers have not been silent on the cow protection law as one concerned commentator notes. Farmers are not one homogenous group. The KRRS has been vocally protesting against these laws in alliance with Dalit organisations. They have held month-long demonstrations in Bangalore, held statewide discussions, and have planned a legal battle at the Supreme Court with allies. Abandoned calves are being dumped at local government offices in protest and such actions are planned for other parts of the state. All this may not be reported in English media, but local Kannada language media has been carrying stories regularly.
On the other hand, Karnataka farmers are facing multiple threats at the same time – a major land reform state law that allows the private purchase of agricultural land as well as the controversial central farm acts. Protests are ongoing simultaneously all these issues.
The republic day tractor parade in Karnataka with over 10,000 tractors in Bangalore was not just about central farm laws, but it also focused on these so-called cow protection laws, and brought together Dalit and worker allies.
Chukki Nanjundaswamy is a farmers’ leader from Karnataka, and is associated with Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha.