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Judge bats for cow as India's national animal

Activists agree the cow is worshipped in the country but seek a uniform protection law with clarity on beef consumption

Judge bats for cow as India's national animal

A Hindu holy man prays inside a shelter where cows are protected and venerated in New Delhi, India. (Photo: UCA News)

The observations of a high court judge in calling for the cow to be declared India's national animal have evoked mixed reactions from social activists.

Justice Shekhar Kumar Yadav of Allahabad High Court in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh made the observations on Sept. 1 while denying bail to Javed, a Muslim man accused in a cow slaughter case.

Fifty-nine-year-old Javed was jailed in March for slaughtering a cow but his lawyer told the court that his client had been implicated in a false case.

“All circumstances must be considered and the cow should be declared as a national animal and cow protection should be made the fundamental right of Hindus,” the judge is reported to have said.

Human rights activist A.C. Michael told UCA News that there is nothing wrong in declaring the cow as a national animal. “In fact, it should be wholeheartedly welcomed. The government of the day should immediately implement the law to protect the cow.”

Michael, a former member of Delhi Minorities Commission, said Indians do worship the cow and depended on it for agriculture and allied economic activities. The judge seemed neutral in his observations but the judiciary must also recognize the rights of those consuming beef.

Cow protection is synonymous with Indian culture, is not restricted to one religion, but must be done by all citizens who live here irrespective of their religion

“The law must not be misused by cow protection activists or private cowsheds built to show off and doing little to protect the cow, as the judge himself observed,” the Christian lay leader said.

Justice Yadav had said that the cow is known as the mother in the country and is worshipped as a goddess. “Cows give milk, which is needed for a strong and healthy constitution. It gives cow dung for fertilizers and urine that kills germs … It produces calf and oxen, which help in agriculture when they grow up,” he said.

In his observations, Justice Yadav also said: “You can’t take away lives for the taste buds of a few … And the right to life is higher than the right to kill … Eating cow meat can never be a fundamental right … the fundamental rights can’t just be a privilege for those who eat cow meat, but those who rely on cow for income and those who worship cows also have the right to a meaningful life.”

“Cow protection is synonymous with Indian culture, is not restricted to one religion, but must be done by all citizens who live here irrespective of their religion,” he added.

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Muhammad Arif, chairman of the Centre for Harmony and Peace, felt the judge’s pronouncements appeared quite confusing. “On one side the court speaks of cow protection, but then what about states like Goa or the northeastern region where governments allow beef consumption?” he asked.

Arif, whose organization is based in Uttar Pradesh, added: “We are not against declaring the cow a national animal but there should be a uniform law on its protection and consumption of beef. You cannot allow beef eating in one place and call it illegal in another place. The matter should be referred to the Supreme Court or the parliament.” 

The federal government run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) banned cow slaughter in May 2017, purportedly to preserve and improve indigenous breeds.

Uttar Pradesh state has a law against cow slaughter dating back to the mid-1950s. its present BJP chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, is accused of targeting Muslims and Dalits under the pretext of cracking down on cow slaughter and beef trade.

We know that when there is an assault on a country’s culture and faith, it becomes weak

Cow slaughter is prohibited in most Indian states except Kerala in the south and West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim in the northeast.

Meanwhile, Justice Yadav’s observations were making a splash in national and regional media, underlining how the cow was a “basis of our [Indian] culture” since ancient times, and how “scientists believe that the cow is the only animal that inhales oxygen and exhales oxygen too.”

“We know that when there is an assault on a country’s culture and faith, it becomes weak,” he reportedly remarked.

India is one of the largest exporters of beef in the world but maintains it is mainly buffalo meat and the slaughter and export of cow meat is strictly prohibited.

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