New Delhi: Days after the BJP-led government in Karnataka passed the stringent Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2020, the state’s deputy chief minister said that cow vigilantes would have “a scope to work in this provision”, raising fears that the new law could be used to legitimise violence by self-proclaimed ‘gau rakshaks‘ against members of minorty communities involved in trading cattle.
“Earlier, life was at risk for vigilantes… not those who were in the (cattle) trade,” C.N. Ashwath Narayan reportedly told NDTV. when asked about concerns that the new anti-cow slaughter Bill will protect ‘gau rakshaks’.
The new Bill reportedly seeks to protect “persons acting in good faith” to prevent cow slaughter from legal action. Under the Bill, no suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall be initiated against the competent authority or any person exercising powers under this legislation in “good faith”.
“Vigilantes or anyone who is working for a cause and the law of the land should definitely have a scope to work in this provision,” Narayan said.
He also claimed that in Karnataka, “it is only the cow vigilantes who have lost their lives” and that persons in the cattle trade “were completely armed”. “They [cattle traders] were taking lives and killing people. It is not the vigilantes,” Narayan claimed.
However, as Sukanya Shantha of The Wire has reported, the state has a long history of a violent vigilante campaign against the consumption of beef. For the past 15 years, there have been many instances of vigilante groups attacking and killing people involved in the trade.
The Bill, which was adopted by the state assembly on Wednesday seeks a total ban on the slaughter of all cattle and buffaloes below 13 years of age. The Bill also imposes a stringent punishment upon violation of the legislation including imprisonment between three years and seven years with a fine not less than Rs 50,000 per cattle and may be extended up to Rs 7 lakh. The interstate transportation of cattle will also be banned without prior permission from competent authorities.
Additionally, the Bill makes selling the cattle for slaughtering or intentionally killing the cattle an offence and if convicted, the court can forfeit the accused’s confiscated cattle, vehicle, premises, and material on behalf of the state government. Police officers will also be allowed to visit premises where ‘suspicious slaughtering’ is taking place, under the Bill, and will be allowed to seize the cattle.
The Bill, which faced strong criticism from opposition parties Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), has drawn flak from former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy who said that it could be “politically misused”.
“There is a fear that the provision to allow police and other officials to inspect the dairy premises may lead to the officials harassing farmers and creating fear psychosis,” Kumaraswamy said.
How can a farmer ensure that the cattle being brought from is not diverted to slaughter houses? Please do not make farmers to run around the government offices instead of focusing on farming.(13/16)
— H D Kumaraswamy (@hd_kumaraswamy) December 10, 2020
Concerns have also been raised by meat traders and sellers in Goa, who claim that the new Bill will affect the tourism state’s beef supply.
Protesting farmers in Bengaluru also expressed concerns over the anti-cow slaughter Bill. “It is common for farmers to sell a cow or buffalo when it stops producing milk. We will look after them but we want the government to introduce an insurance scheme for cattle so when the cattle dies we will be compensated,” Kodihalli Chandrashekar, the President of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, a pro-farmer organisation, said.
Demands for similar anti-cow slaughter legislation were also raised in neighbouring Telangana by BJP national leader P. Muralidhar Rao.