India defers controversial bill to ban cow slaughter

New Delhi (AFP) – The Indian government deferred the introduction of a draft bill in parliament which, if passed, would ban the slaughter of cows, revered by the country’s majority Hindu community.

After strident protests from opposition benches, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said Thursday the government had decided to defer the introduction of the Prevention of Cruelty to Cows Bill, 2003.

“An all-party meeting will be convened soon to arrive at a consensus,” Swaraj told the lower house of parliament.

Last week, Swaraj had said the legislation would be tabled in the current monsoon session of parliament, which has its final session Thursday.

India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party has been actively campaigning for a law banning cow slaughter since it came to power in 1998.

Individual states are empowered to implement their own laws and some, like the predominantly tribal and Christian northeastern states, have not imposed restrictions on cow slaughter.

Observers said that while the draft legislation was likely to be endorsed in parliament’s 545-seat lower house, where the Hindu nationalists are in majority, the resolution was doomed to be shot down in the upper house.

The cow is worshipped across overwhelmingly Hindu India and the emotive issue has been one of the key electoral planks of Vajpayee’s BJP and its right-wing allies.

The export of beef from India is already banned. However, laws differ in Indian states with some allowing the slaughter of elderly and ailing cows while others enforce a total ban.

The Muslim League party, led by India’s main opposition Congress, and communist groups oppose the bill, arguing that such a law would be unconstitutional because it would deny beef-eaters their staple diet.

With several states going to the polls in September-October, political parties, led by the BJP, have stepped up the anti-slaughter drive.

The slaughter of cows frequently leads to clashes between Hindus and Muslims.

Last October five low caste men were killed by a mob which suspected them of killing a cow.

The Indian Leather Products Association (ILPA), has warned that a ban on cow slaughter would make the country’s thriving leather exports shrink by at least 750 million dollars.

“Alongside a sharp drop in leather exports the employment of 1.5 million people is likely to be jeopardised,” said S.S Kumar, chairman of the exports division of the ILPA.

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