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Sri Lanka ready to ban cattle slaughter

Muslims claim a government move to amend laws is politically motivated to please Buddhists

UCA News reporter, Colombo

UCA News reporter, Colombo

Published: October 21, 2021 08:45 AM GMT

Updated: October 21, 2021 09:12 AM GMT

Sri Lanka ready to ban cattle slaughter

Buddhists support the government's move to discourage beef consumption.. (Photo: iesc.org)

People of different faiths have expressed mixed feelings about a move by the Sri Lankan government to ban the slaughter of cattle.

Cabinet approval has been granted to amend five acts as the next step to ban cattle slaughter and implement the relevant laws and regulations.

According to observers, the timing of the ban could be driven by political motives. They say the government wants to consider the demands of the Sinhala Buddhist majority and keep them happy, but Muslims have expressed concerns over the future of the meat industry.

Buddhists have indicated they are strongly in favor of the government’s move to discourage beef consumption.

Chathurani S. Rathnayake, a Buddhist Sunday school teacher from Mawathagama, said that while the cow is considered holy by Hindus, Sinhala Buddhists see the cow as the “second milk mother.”

"Most people do not consume beef out of gratitude for using not only cows’ milk and dung and for using the cow for paddy field work and cart pulling. All religious people should respect cows. It is a good thing that the government has taken steps to ban cattle slaughter. We must protect our livestock," she said.

Buddhist groups Sinhala Ravaya and Bodu Bala Sena have launched awareness campaigns and protests demanding an end to selling meat under halal certification

Rathnayake has been working against cattle slaughter for a long time. She went to a slaughterhouse and freed two cows that she has cared for since 2019. She spent around 70,000 rupees (US$350) to save one animal from death.

According to Ordinance No. 09 of 1893, which legalizes the slaughter of cattle, operators need a license to kill animals and sell meat. Animals should be slaughtered only between 6am and 6pm. It is also an offense punishable under the Animal Cruelty Ordinance No. 13 of 1907 to drive a vehicle in a manner that harms animals.

According to the Animal Act No. 29 of 1958, slaughter of cattle is permitted only for males over one year of age and for females over 12 years. Slaughter of pregnant cows or cows suitable for breeding activities is prohibited by law.

The legalization of the ban on cattle slaughter will have a major impact on the Muslim community. Large-scale beef suppliers as well as beef stall traders have protested against the ban.

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A Muslim businessman said some Muslims are involved in the meat trade in Sri Lanka.

"It is another blow to the pluralism of the nation. Over the past few years, the issues of halal, sterilization pills and many rumors against Muslims have been spread in the country," said the businessman who wished to remain anonymous.

Buddhist groups Sinhala Ravaya and Bodu Bala Sena have launched awareness campaigns and protests demanding an end to selling meat under halal certification.

Many Buddhist extremist organizations have urged people not to eat at Muslim-owned restaurants, saying they were systematically working to reduce the population of Sinhala Buddhists by making them sterile.

Ven. Bowatthe Indrarathana Thera,  a member of a Buddhist revivalist group, set himself on fire in protest against the slaughter of cattle outside the main entrance of the highly venerated Kandy temple in 2013.

Buddhism forbids followers from killing animals but many Buddhists eat meat including beef. Eating beef is also common among many Christians and Muslims.

The ban will affect a section of the Muslim community who are dependent on the meat industry

Political analyst Ruwan Hanthaka said half the calves born to dairy cows are males and those male calves are a huge burden to farmers.

"If they are not sold, they must be fed and cared for until they die. It is a big amount of money to allocate to feeding them. The ban will affect a section of the Muslim community who are dependent on the meat industry," said Hanthaka, a Christian.

"Many of the issues with the extremist groups are the growth of anti-Muslim attitudes in the country." 

Tensions between Buddhists and Muslims have mounted in Sri Lanka over the last decade. Human rights organizations have highlighted increasing incidents of violations of rights of Muslims in the country.

Buddhists comprise 70 percent of Sri Lanka's population, while Muslims account for about 10 percent. In the last five years, some Buddhist groups have demanded the Sinhalese boycott Muslim-owned shops.

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