No Proof Required: Guns, laws and sacred cows

By: |
October 10, 2015 12:16 AM

A secular nation can’t prohibit the killing of cows like a Hindu country or of pigs like an Islamic or a Jewish nation

There are lessons that all of us need to learn from the lynching of an innocent man, Mohammed Akhlaq. His “crime” was that he was a Muslim and was suspected of eating beef, something that is illegal in India. (Is eating of capitalist American beef a Hindu crime? Just asking.) The fact that the meat he consumed was not beef only worsens the barbarism of his lynching. Assume that person X consumes beef in India; should he be killed? Absolutely not. The law says that X, if found guilty, should be fined

Rs 1 lakh and/or face a jail term of up to 10 years. The law is far, far removed from murder as punishment for slaughter of cows. The first lesson, for all of us, is to question the nature of our society that allows such laws to be in place.

The second lesson is for the political leadership. The number one political leader in India is prime minister Narendra Modi. He has been recognised around the world as an astute leader, one who knows the chemistry of politics well. So, how did Modi make the major mistake of tweeting about all and sundry (including a blood clot operation of a former cricketer) but did not find the time, or the inclination, to merely tweet (forget protest or condemn) about this horrible communal murder in his own backyard (Dadri, the village where Akhlaq was lynched, is less than 50 miles from Delhi.) He waited to say something, and did so only after he was shamed into uttering platitudes about this horrific murder post the speech of the president of India, Pranab Mukerjee, about India’s core values of “diversity, tolerance and plurality”.

What Modi finally did say was that instead of Hindus and Muslims fighting each other, they should fight poverty. A nice, well-rehearsed line, and one Modi used effectively in the 2014 election campaign. Several relevant questions; but first, Modi must be well aware of that ancient Indian (Hindu?) saying: Whatever you are going to do tomorrow, do today—and whatever you are going to do today, do now. So, why the inordinate 12-day delay in issuing a statement, such as it was, on the Dadri lynching? Has Modi heard of the old Latin rule of law: Qui tacet consentire videtur or “that one who is silent is seen to have given consent”.

The second leading question, which was the real topic of the president’s speech: Can multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-diverse India afford fundamentalist and “separatist” views? One can well ask, can any country afford, let alone endorse, talibanisation? Fundamentalism begins with banning, with believing that only “they” have the right answer to how people should dress, pray, eat, see, or believe. Are our Hindu leaders looking at what has happened to Pakistan since it was taken over by the religious fundamentalists? Is the same already happening in India? And what are our political leaders doing about it?

There are lessons that PM Modi can learn from his good statesman-friend US president Barack Obama. Just three days of the Dadri lynching, on September 28, there was a mass shooting of innocent college students by a lonely, deranged individual with possession of a truckload of guns in Oregon, the US. Within hours of this mass murder, president Obama appeared on the airwaves to express horror at the crime, and to appeal to Americans to be civilised and behave as members of the 21st century—and that he wanted to politicise this mass murder in order to attempt to bring sanity to insane US gun laws. In the US, they have the Second Amendment which states that “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The US Constitution was written at a time the founding fathers were fighting a war against the colonisers. A legitimate question asked by Obama and many others is whether or not the circumstances, and the country, and the world has changed in the last 250 years. Do the Americans really need guns to protect themselves today against an invading army? Isn’t a nuclear bomb enough of a weapon? Do the fundamentalist Americans realise that more Americans have been killed by guns in the US since 1968 than in all US wars?

Guns are America’s sacred cows and it appears that they are not dealing with the problem any better than we are. In India, we have laws against cow slaughter and the consumption of beef. According to our Constitution, the Directive Principles of State Policy state that “The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.”

The Directive Principles are not law, but our suggestions for “law”. The Constitution writers recognised they were treading on thin “Constitutional” grounds when they suggested a ban on cows and buffaloes, but not on goats and pigs or any other animals. Goats give milk, so why are we allowed to eat mutton? The failure of the Indian Constitution is that it wants India to be a Hindu state, but shies away from saying so.

But our Supreme Court judges are not shy from interpreting the Constitution in a Hinduised manner. In 1959, the Supreme Court allowed the killing of cows after they reached the age of 16. Why was this done so? Because they felt that resources were scarce, and fodder was scarce, so 16+ cows could be killed to make way for younger cows.

But a 2005 Supreme Court judgment (rarest of rare cases, a 7-member bench) reversed the 1959 judgement and said that cows and bulls could not be slaughtered and gave the following grounds for doing so: “It cannot be accepted that bulls and bullocks become useless after the age of 16. This is because till the end of their lives they yield excreta in the form of urine and dung which are both extremely useful for production of biogas and manure. An old bullock gives 5 tonnes of dung and 343 pounds of urine in a year which can help in the manufacture of 20 cartloads of composed manure”.

Note, how the Hinduised Supreme Court invokes only economics, and bad economics at that, rather than coming out and boldly stating: Indians cannot kill cows because the Hindu fundamentalists, to whom we bow to, tell us that we cannot kill cows. An Islamic or Jewish nation can prohibit the killing of pigs; a Hindu nation can prohibit the killing of cows; a secular nation can do neither. According to the 2005 Supreme Court (note, BJP was not in power then!) the idea of India is that of a Hindu nation.

Logical consistency is not something one associates with the Indian Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court has an excuse, albeit a flimsy one, that the Constitution explicitly states that an individual has the right to buy guns. In India, we interpret laws in a half-pregnant manner. For example, SCs, STs and OBCs have education and job reservations on the basis of caste, but Christians, Muslims and Sikh “castes” are not eligible. Further, the SCs/ STs/ OBCs constitute close to two-thirds of the population. But the Supreme Court mandates that you can be half-pregnant—the maximum limit for reservations is 50%. Only in casteist, Hindu India.

The author is chairman, Oxus Investments, and contributing editor, The Financial Express

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