September 19, 2016    5 minute read

India’s Beef Ban And Animal Rights

Investigating Violent Justice    September 19, 2016    5 minute read

India’s Beef Ban And Animal Rights


‘Ahimsa’ is a major tenet of Indian religions (such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism) and it forms a significant basis for Indian culture and morality regarding discouraging violence and being the primary moral and religious basis for widespread vegetarianism. However, since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP – Indian People’s Party) swept into power in 2014 with Narendra Modi (the Prime Minister) at the helm, one of the most controversial parts of his tenure has been the reinstatement and enforcement of the ‘beef ban’ (that is, cows cannot be slaughtered in India).

On the one hand, the law is intended to do some good regarding preventing the needless and cruel slaughter of these animals, who are considered people within the culture. However, it has also been distorted by others. It has been used by thugs and criminals at the grassroots as a pretence to enforce their brand of ‘justice’ (which Modi has himself condemned by stating that they do not care about cows but are just using it as a justification for their cowardly, immoral and expedient ends).

Religious Privilege And Politics

Nevertheless, the concern remains that particular religions are privileged against others through the law since cows are considered holy in Hinduism (the BJP being a Hindu Nationalist political party) while beef has been part of the diet of Muslims and Christians. This law is in many ways discriminatory and is used as a pretence for violence against Muslims and Christians where there were already pre-existing tensions in many communities. As such, it has served to reinforce animosity between the Hindu majority and religious minorities in particular communities (many of the former having often felt sidelined by the policies of the previous ‘United Progressive Alliance’ coalition government, led by the Indian National Congress). Indeed, in many jurisdictions within India, this gives the police the authority to investigate or make arrests without a warrant.

A Question Of Morality

State enforcement of morality can be problematic regarding it suppressing and distorting the development of conscientious natural morality. However, in this case, there can be some justification if it means that fewer animals are killed, particularly if one believes animals are systematically oppressed and treated as non-people throughout the world. Indeed, the government (following appeals from PETA India) has also: “banned further testing on animals for new drug registrations when complete data from earlier toxicity experiments already exist for drugs approved abroad”. This is, again, a pragmatic compromise with the principle of ‘Ahimsa’ and the barbaric, purported ‘necessity’ for animal testing in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry.

Animals Deserve Rights

Nevertheless, the legislated ban on animal testing and animal slaughter must be extended to encompass all animals (not just cows) for the sake of all animals’ rights and so that no one religious group feels privileged or discriminated against. Extending it to all animals (including chickens, sheep, goats and so on, whose slaughter and consumption is also widespread in India) would accord far more with the principle of ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence and compassion). This would thereby satisfy Hindu sentiment but also show that people are committed to the protection of all animals’ lives and the preservation of all animals’ rights. If the government were truly compassionate toward all individuals (humans and animals), it would make this the case.

Would This Solve The Problem?

Of course, there is the concern that an extended ban may only move animal slaughter to even more cruel environments. Although this is a legitimate and tragic concern that must be addressed accordingly by society becoming more compassionate and caring toward animals, many more animals would be saved. Also meaning India would be a global beacon for animal rights, as well as partly in the fight against climate change, since rearing and consuming animals expends far more environmental damage than other farming practices. Additionally, vegetarian and vegan alternatives to carnivorous practices would work to reduce endemic food price inflation across India and, thereby, reduce hunger and poverty amongst all peoples. It would also lead to a healthier population since Indians have a genetic predisposition of developing heart disease and diabetes (for example) which is further compounded by diet.

Ideally, we should live in a world where there is no need for a state to enforce morality since people would just respect animals’ lives as they are far more vulnerable (having been historically and routinely victimised by human brutality). Given the prevailing circumstances, however, it would be justifiable to extend this ban to other animals to protect them while also ensuring that they are consistent with ‘Ahimsa’.

Nevertheless, this policy can be supported despite one’s general aversion to unjust, statist interventions because the potential justice brought about for animals largely outweighs the potential (morally) problematic aspects of state intervention. As such, the ban on the slaughter of animals in India in its current form is not entirely consistent with ‘Ahimsa’ and must be extended so that it is – indeed, such an extension is logical. A still more preferable means to this end would be for society to become active on ‘Ahimsa’ once again and, thereby, circumvent the need for state intervention in this area at all.

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