A blanket ban on cattle slaughter in the Indian state of Maharashtra has sparked heated debate in India.
Cattle are considered sacred in Hinduism and their meat is taboo. The slaughter of cows was already prohibited in the state, but this law broadens the ban to bulls, bullocks and calves and makes the possession or sale of beef an offense punishable with up to five years in prison and a fine of 10,000 rupees (about 161 US dollars).
Water buffaloes are an exception to the ban; Maharashtra is the third largest buffalo meat producer in India.
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee ratified the bill from right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s alliance Shiv Sena in the beginning of March, 19 years after Shiv Sena had first proposed it. The law amends the “The Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act (MAPA), 1976″, which allowed for the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and buffaloes with a “fit-for-slaughter” certificate. In 1995, Shiv Sena moved to widen the ban, but as the state government changed political hands, their bill remained in limbo. Two weeks after BJP politician Devendra Fadnavis was elected Maharashtra's chief minister, supporters of the bill pushed for its approval.
Fadnavis tweeted welcoming the ratification by the president:
Thanks a lot Hon President Sir for the assent on MaharashtraAnimalPreservationBill.Our dream of ban on cow slaughter becomes a reality now.
— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) March 2, 2015
Member of parliament and BJP politico Kirit Somaiya called the development a “historic step, which has cultural as well as economic implications for the state.”
Soon after the news went public, netizens reacted to the ban under the hashtag #BeefBan, which became one of the world's top trending hashtags, appearing 22,000 times in less than 24 hours.
Twitter user Mohammed Hisamuddin tweeted asking for ban to go even further:
— Mohammed Hisamuddin (@hisaming) March 3, 2015
A parody account of internationally acclaimed author Salman Rushdie tweeted:
Congratulations Maharashtra: it is now safer to be a cow than a woman, Dalit or Muslim in the state.
— RushdieExplainsIndia (@RushdieExplains) March 3, 2015
In India, about 93 women are raped every day, according to the country's National Crime Records Bureau.
Freelance writer and comedian Neeti Palta added:
— Neeti Palta (@neetipalta) March 3, 2015
Columnist and novelist Shobhaa De reacted asking the chief minister to throw her in prison for eating beef:
Where's the beef ? Mr. Phadnis and others, I am willing to face 5 years in jail to defend the right of beef eaters in Maharashtra.
— Shobhaa De (@DeShobhaa) March 3, 2015
Singer and actor Vir Das humorously suggested a ban on teeth:
Dear Govt. With beef, let's ban teeth. We can live on vegetable smoothies and this way your politicians can't make hate speeches anymore :-)
— Vir Das (@thevirdas) March 3, 2015
On Facebook, investor Mahesh Murthy debated the merits of food bans:
[..] you consider the cow sacred and won't eat it. Well, I consider spinach sacred and won't eat it. But that doesn't mean I can stop you from eating spinach and you can stop me from eating cows. Why don't you worry about your diet, I'll worry about mine. [..]
In the same post, Murthy questioned the credibility of BJP failing to provide basic amenities while being able to chase for such stringent laws:
[..] is this what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected for? Of all the things that Maharashtra needs, apparently a ban on beef is more important and pressing than solving water, electricity and jobs problems?
Many Bollywood celebrities reacted on Twitter to the ban:
@TandonRaveena: My only take on beef issue that it should not be enforced,it should be optional… To eat or not to eat,is a personal choice
— Raveena Tandon (@TandonRaveena) March 3, 2015
Blogger Shoaib Daniyal elaborated on the political sentiments of Hindu believers being compromised by politicians:
In his prime ministerial campaign, Narendra Modi used the emotive power of the cow to attack the United Progressive Alliance government. “It saddens me,” he wrote on his blog, “that present UPA Government led by Congress is promoting slaughtering of cows and exporting beef to bring ‘Pink Revolution’”.[..]
This contradictory approach to the issue of cow protection shows that it is treated more as a political rather than religious matter. Cow protection sentiments are exploited by the state and politicians to mobilise people and catch votes, targeting poor Muslims and Dalits by accusing them of cow slaughter. Of course, since other factors are clean ignored (as a result of economic considerations), these laws do nothing to actually improve the lot of cattle in the country.
“You should be outraged because the state is infringing on the freedom of communities to consume food of their choice. And if you're an animal rights activist you should cheer and redirect your outrage towards stopping the slaughter of chicken, pigs, goats and buffaloes [..]”, Arun George, a blogger, argued.
Like most other religious and communal issues in India, the current beef ban has triggered media and people to react strongly. In response, hardliners have strengthened their propaganda efforts and attacked people on social media for opposing the beef ban. Many voices speaking out against the ban have accused the state and central government of not taking issues like basic amenities, women’s rights and safety and growing poverty and lawlessness seriously, instead concentrating on a beef ban.