Last week, the Bombay High Court passed a verdict on a case of cow slaughter following a complaint filed by the President of Bajrang Dal, Khamgaon.
In the case, the accused was arrested on a complaint of carrying the skins of 187 dead cows, as verified by the Animal Husbandry department.
The Bombay High Court bench of Justice V. M. Deshpande & Anil S. Kilor quashed the FIR by insisting that dealing with cow skin is not a crime. Since there was no allegation that the accused had been transporting, exporting, purchasing, or selling with the intention of slaughtering, and he was only carrying animal skin and not flesh, the court had decided that he had not done anything illegal.
The Court Decision
The verdict is a slap on the face of cow vigilantism which is exceedingly being used as an excuse to target Muslims who are involved in the meat, dairy, and leather industries, and depend on it for their livelihood.
The court observed the following:
(Allegedly), the applicant was carrying 187 skins of cows in the van. There are no allegations that the applicant was transporting or exporting cow, bull or bullock for the purpose of slaughter in contravention of the provision of the Act, 1976. There are also no allegations that the applicant purchased or sold or otherwise disposed of or offered to purchase or sell or dispose of cow, bull or bullock for slaughter.”
The judge then proceeded to cite the difference between skin and flesh.
“The main difference between ‘skin’ and ‘flesh’ is that the ‘skin’ is a soft outer covering organ of vertebrates and the ‘flesh’ is a soft substance of an animal body that consists of muscle and fat.”
Thus, the Court had concluded that the word ‘flesh’ used in the premises of the Act of 1976 for Cow Slaughter, could not also mean the skin of the animal.
Hindutva Within the Judiciary
This judgment reflects the fear of hurting Hindutva sentiments within the judiciary.
The bench had to use the biological definition and difference between skin and flesh to make the argument that the accused is innocent as he did not kill the cow or use its meat.
While the judge needs to be applauded for using the argument for saving the life of an innocent person who was only performing his livelihood, the decision is a further attestation of the seeping effects of Hindutva politics.
While it may now seem alright to use the skin for leatherwork, by prohibiting the use of flesh which will be most likely used for food, one can’t help but notice that the court seems to have given in to Hindutva sentiments.
It is hard to ignore the deep-seated caste connotations in the verdict and the prevailing sentiment of caste-based occupation and the hegemonic food practices, i.e of the upper castes. The upper castes use the cows for milk and in farms and once the animal is too old to be used and collapses in exhaustion, it is up to the oppressed caste- who lived on the exteriors of the city to come in and carry the dead animal away. So the oppressed castes can carry the dead cow and the skin of the cow but cannot take the flesh of the animal and eat it as food.
“The untouchables are beaten for putting on clothes of superior quality. They are whipped because they used utensils made of metal like copper, etc. Their houses are burnt for having purchased land for cultivation. They are beaten for putting on the sacred thread on their body. They are beaten for refusing to carry away dead animals and eat the carrion, or for walking through the village road with socks and shoes on, or for not bowing down before a caste Hindu, or for taking water in a copper pot while going out in the field to ease [defecate],” – Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, in a speech at the Bombay Presidency Mahar Conference on May 31, 1936.
The beef ban that BJP has propounded in many states has proved that the government has only certain section’s interests in mind.
There exists now a kind of food fascism that believes that all Indians do not eat beef when in reality It is a cheap and rich source of proteins among many minorities and marginalized communities across different religions.
This decision taken by the government ignores many social realities along with their cultural habits.
There is also a certain double standard when we say that cow or cattle skin can be used for leatherwork since it has been bleached or ‘purified.’ That leather shoes and bags are considered legal brings to light what might be the true intent of the Beef Slaughter laws- Suppression.
Leather products are extremely profitable and industrialized, it brings profits in the hands of upper caste businessmen. However, by banning the choice to eat beef, it is only the marginalized who suffer.