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Why Forward-Thinking Liberals Should Support The Beef Ban

05/03/2015 12:58 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Aneesh Sankarankutty

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Maharashtra state has banned the possession and sale of beef and has extended its ban on the slaughter of cows to include bulls and calves. Unfortunately, for many reasons, the ban will have limited practical effect on the butchering of cows, while buffaloes and other animals are not even included in the ban. However, it is legislation aimed at saving lives and should therefore be supported - particularly by those who consider themselves forward-thinking and liberal-minded - for reasons that are entirely non-religious and apolitical.

Instead, the state's decision has been heavily criticised on social media by people who wish to appear open-minded and respectful of communities in which beef-eating is common and by those who simply want to eat cows and consider it their "personal choice" to do so. Many of the people posting criticism of the ban are remarking that other important issues, such as women's rights, are not yet adequately addressed in India, implying that animal protection is therefore premature or frivolous.

This criticism of the beef and slaughter ban runs counter to the claim of caring deeply about respect for differences and personal choices and protection of women and minority communities.

American civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere". As long as we as a society accept the "might makes right" mentality and allow discrimination against those different from ourselves - whether in ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or species - we are aiding and abetting the forces responsible for human slavery, the denial of women's and gay rights, factory farming and other abuses to both animals and human beings, and we will never be able to guarantee respect for our own right to live free from suffering.

In other words, if we accept and condone the torture and killing of an individual simply because that individual is different from us -- in this case, of a different species -- what's stopping someone else from doing that to us based on the same twisted logic?

Peter Singer, professor of ethics and philosophy at both Princeton University and the University of Melbourne, points out that "the most blatant racists or sexists think that those who belong to their race or sex have superior moral status, simply in virtue of their race or sex, and irrespective of other characteristics or qualities." The same could be said for heterosexuals who discriminate against homosexuals. This is a prejudice, Singer explains, that survives because "it is convenient for the dominant group". He also says that if we ignore or discount the interests of animals simply on the grounds that they are not members of our species, the logic of our position is similar to racism or sexism - it is speciesism.

I have personally investigated the transport and slaughter of cows in India. They are either marched to slaughter or crammed onto vehicles in such high numbers that often their bones break and many of them die en route from suffocation or injuries.

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Those who are forced to walk may have chilli seeds or tobacco smeared into their eyes and their tailbones broken at every joint by their handlers if they balk and try to rest or even if they collapse from exhaustion. When the survivors reach the slaughterhouse, workers typically slash their throats - in full view of other cows - with a dull knife. As this video shows, the cows who end up in Kerala may also be bashed repeatedly over the head with a hammer even before their throats are cut.

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How can anyone who supports the protection of human women turn a blind eye to such horrific treatment of women of a different species?

Sexual abuse of female animals on factory farms around the globe, where every aspect of these thinking, feeling beings' lives is controlled, is considered standard procedure. Cows used for milk and for meat are either crudely artificially inseminated - which often causes extreme pain - or confined to what the industry itself calls a "rape rack", tiny stalls in which female animals are placed and can hardly move. A male animal is then given access to impregnate the females, who commonly vocalise and bellow their agony and try in vain to get away. If we as a society speak up against the rape and abuse of all species, wouldn't we be making an even stronger and clearer point that it will not be tolerated in our own?

As mentioned earlier, the Maharashtra beef and slaughter ban does not go far enough to stop the slaughter of cows. This is partially because the government promotes the dairy industry. Yet, ironically, it is the dairy industry that supplies cows to the beef industry. As explained in The Hindu, "Beef and milk are two sides of the same coin, especially in India where cattle and buffaloes are farmed primarily for milk. There are no 'beef' animals in India. Yet, bovine meat constitutes 62 per cent of India's total meat production. Beef, in India, is sourced from the dairy industry, which is economically sustainable only because it is supported by the meat and meat by-products industries (such as leather). Therefore, if we care about cattle, we should first look into the lives of milch animals".

The beef and slaughter ban is also only specific to meat and so does not ban leather. Leather footwear has, in fact, even been made cheaper in the Union Budget 2015-16, and the leather industry is heavily supported by Make in India (although leather exporters shamelessly advertise their availability of cow and calf leather on the Council for Leather Exports website).

It is estimated that there are about 30,000 unlicensed slaughterhouses in India in which cows and other animals are killed, and the transportation of cows across state lines - and even to Bangladesh - to be slaughtered is very common.

However, we can consider the Maharashtra state's ban a step, albeit a baby step, towards a future in which might may no longer make right and every living being can live free from violence and suffering.

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