ucanews.com reporters, New DelhiUpdated: June 01, 2017 08:35 AM GMT
People feed cows on a roadside of the Indian capital New Delhi. A May 26 ban on cattle slaughter has been met with fierce protests. (ucanews.com photo)
The Indian government has banned the sale of cattle for slaughter across the country leading to protests in a move church leaders say is a violation of human rights.
The nationwide ban has alarmed minority groups and led to protests in several states. Beef is a cheap source of protein for Muslims and Christians who together form 20 percent of India's population as well as tribal and Dalit people.
The environment ministry banned the sale of cattle, buffaloes and camels for slaughter through animal markets and banned establishing livestock markets within 50 kilometers of an international border and 25 kilometers of a state border.
Livestock markets will only be able to trade cattle for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and dairy production. Also, taking the animal over state boundaries would require special approval, the government's May 26 order said.
According to Hindu religion, cows are sacred animals and killing them is a sin. Orthodox Hindus worship them as "gods" symbolizing peace and prosperity.
The order evoked strong protests all over the Indian state of Kerala where 97 percent of the 34.8 million population are non-vegetarians. Apart from Christians and Muslims, who constitute nearly 43 percent of the population, a sizeable section of Hindus there also eat beef.
Opposing the order, activists of the Kerala Youth Congress slaughtered a calf in public on May 28. Sixteen of them were later arrested for animal cruelty.
The state Congress committee also made May 29 a Black Day in protest. Beef accounts for more than 50 percent of meat consumed in the state. The annual sale of beef is estimated at 230,000 metric tons while poultry accounts for 151,000 tons.
In Bangalore, capital of Karnataka state, police disallowed a protest planned for May 30 by the Student's Federation of India after it came to light that the organizers planned to cook and eat beef at the event.
In Tamil Nadu state, 150 members of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam were arrested for attempting to burn an effigy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They also distributed beef in protest.
According to Father Maria Stephen, public relations officer of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, the ban is part of the government's "hidden agenda" in appeasing hard-line Hindus.
The powerful pro-Hindu socio-religious Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) group have been pushing the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) for a countrywide ban on the slaughter of cows. The federal government is led by the pro-Hindu BJP, the political wing of the RSS.
"If the government is so concerned about animal cruelty, it should ban the killing of all the animals and birds," Father Stephen told ucanews.com.
Food habits are an individual choice and the government's move to restrict it according to its ideological wishes in a democratic country "is blatant violation of individual rights," he said.
Christy Abraham, national general secretary of ecumenical group Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh (national Christian federation), said the ban will create "a kind of food emergency."
"How can the government dictate what to eat and what not to? The present government is pushing through its agenda of turning India into a Hindu theocratic state by taking away the fundamental rights of citizens."
Cows are holy animals in India and their slaughter was banned on May 26. However Christians and Muslims are upset at losing a key source of cheap protein. (ucanews.com photo)
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, told ucanews.com, "Modern Indian society should live more by conviction than by laws."
"The biggest worry now is that the animal has become more important than human beings," said Bishop Mascarenhas.
The bishop said the ban violated human rights as "there is killing and lynching in the name of cow protection which no religion supports."
Hard-line Hindus have attacked people associated with cattle slaughter in what has become known as "cow vigilantism." Since May 2015, at least 12 people have been killed due to tensions surrounding cattle slaughter.
A.C. Michael, former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission, told ucanews.com, "If a majority society makes a law and imposes it on a minority, how can we say that it is a democratic county? Democracy means people are living together with equal rights."
The move, according to lawyer Govinda Yadav will have a damaging effect on the economy. India last year supplied 20 percent of the world's exported beef.
"This will eliminate industries involved in leather, food and related sectors, besides rendering millions of people jobless," he told ucanews.com.
"Such a blatant violation of the constitution by the government is a serious assault on citizens' freedom to choose their food and other life habits," he added.