Ban against Cow-slaughter: Need for a Constitutional Mandate

There has been a lot of anger and outrage at the recent killing of a cattle rearer in Alwar. Such private violence is totally unacceptable and without a shadow of doubt, the culprits must be given the harshest possible punishment for such a ghastly murder.

In this post, I am not going to delve into the issue of cow vigilante groups, and their violent actions. The #Core position on that is very clear – no room in a democracy for private violence. However, the focus of this post is on the Constitutional and Legal status of cow slaughter in India.

As it stands today, there is just a Directive Principle in our Constitution, vide Article 48, which asks the State to move towards prevention of slaughter of cattle.

Article 48 says the following.

“Organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry 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”

As one can see, it only advises the Government to “take steps” towards prohibition of cow slaughter.

It is left to the various state governments to frame laws regarding cow slaughter. A majority of the states have banned cow slaughter while some like West Bengal and the North Eastern states allow it, under certain terms and conditions.

The issue of prohibition of cow slaughter is an important one for Hindus. In spite of all the intellectual exercises undertaken by secular liberals, it remains an undisputed fact that cows hold a special place in the Hindu scheme of things. It is a divine being, revered by many tens of crores of Hindus. Go-pooja or the worship of cows is an integral part of Hindu religion.

The demand from Team #Core on this issue, has been aptly surmised by RealityCheckIndia in this post. I reproduce the relevant portion here.

Cow slaughter : Need to have  a better law that openly says that cows get protection due to their special position in Hindu religion. The laws also have to be deeper and more well thought out. An example might be for outlaw and enforce in letter the killing of male calves. Today the laws are worded as if the target is the butcher, consumer, and not the seller and the calf-killer. Can also institute a permanent amnesty regime by micro-chipping the herds. Today, if Congress comes back in MH the herds who are immune from slaughter today can be picked up.  The costs of maintaining cattle must also be borne as far as possible by Hindus via tax deductions and special assessments on temples.”

The key point is that the ambiguity regarding the State’s position with respect to cow slaughter must be removed.

  • Cows hold an exalted position in Hindu religion and culture.
  • Ban of cow slaughter does not deprive any other community of any Fundamental Right.
  • Hence Cow Slaughter must be prohibited in the Constitution itself.

When we look closely at the framing of Article 48 of the Constitution, we realize that the makers of the Constitution also expressed their intent along the above lines. Even more surprisingly, the members of the drafting committee who were from the Muslim community were vocal in demanding that there be a proper law banning cow slaughter enshrined in the Constitution.

In its original form, Article 38A of the Draft Constitution looked as below.

“The State shall endeavour to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall in particular take steps for preserving and improving the breeds of cattle and prohibit the slaughter of cow and other useful cattle, specially milch and draught cattle and their young stock”

This Article was in fact not present in the initial draft, and was introduced by Sri Pandit Thakur Dass Bhargava. A majority of the members, during the subsequent course of debate, support the insertion of this Article, and hence it came be part of the Constitution as Article 48.

During his speech when introducing the amendment Sri Bhargava gave multiple reasons for this Article, including religious and economic ones. His actual intent was to see cow slaughter ban as being part of Fundamental Rights! Some excerpts below

“To my mind it would have been much better if this could have been incorporated in the Fundamental Rights,but some of my Assembly friends differed and it is the desire of Dr. Ambedkar that this matter, instead of being included in Fundamental Rights should be incorporated in the Directive Principles.”


Therefore, I want to submit before you that the slaughter of cattle should be banned here Ours is an agricultural country and the cow is `Kam-Dhenu’ to us – fulfiller of all our wants. From both points of view, of agriculture and food, protection of the cow becomes necessary. Our ancient sages and Rishis, realising her importance, regarded her as very sacred. here, Lord Krishna was born, who served cows so devotedly that to this day, in affection he is known as “Makhan Chor”. I would not relate to you the story of Dalip, how that Raja staked his own life for his cow. But I would like to tell you that even during the Muslim rule, Babar, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir and even in the reign of Aurangzeb, cowslaughter was not practised in India; not because Muslims regarded it to be bad but because, from the economic point of view, it was unprofitable.”

Seth Govind Das, who spoke during the debate was also vociferously supportive

AsPandit Thakur Das told you, I had submitted this earlier to be included in Fundamental Rights but I regret that it could not be so included. The reason given is that Fundamental Rights deal only with human beings and not animals.”

“I consider myself a religious minded person, and have no respect for those people of the present day society whose attitude towards religion and religious minded people is one of contempt. It is my firm belief that Dharma had never been uprooted from the world and nor can it be uprooted.”

Prof Shiban Lal Saxena had this to say

“Sir, I had given notice of an amendment in which I desired that cow slaughter should be banned completely. But after the agreement arrived at about Pt. Thakur Dass Bhargava’s amendment, I waive my right to move my amendment.”

Dr Raghu Vira, Sri R V Dhulekar and others also strongly supported a full ban.

MR Z H Lari, who was a Muslim, and a representative of United Provinces, made some very interesting comments during the debate. It is perhaps reflective of the Muslim mindset on this issue.

“We are not here to obstruct the attitude that the majority community is going to adopt. But let there not linger an idea in the mind of the Muslim public that they can do one thing, though in fact they are not expected to do that.”


“Therefore, if the House is of the opinion that slaughter of cows should be prohibited, let it be prohibited in clear, definite and unambiguous words. I do not want that there should be a show that you could have this thing although the intention may be otherwise. My own submission to this House is that it is better to come forward and incorporate a clause in Fundamental Rights that cow slaughter is henceforth prohibited, rather than it being left vague in the Directive Principles”

Syed Muhammad Sa’adulla, another prominent Muslim representative from Assam made similar comments.

“Some who want to have a section in our Constitution that cow killing should be stopped for all time probably base it on the religious front. I have every sympathy and appreciation for their feelings; for, I am student of comparative religions. I know that the vast majority of the Hindu nation revere the cow as their goddess and therefore they cannot brook the idea of seeing it slaughtered. I am a Muslim as everyone knows. In my religious book, the Holy Qoran, there is an injunction to the Muslims saying –

“La Ikraba fid Din”,

or, there ought to be no compulsion in the name of religion.I therefore do not like to use my veto when my Hindu brethren want to place this matter in our Constitution from the religious point of view”

“I mean the Constituent Assembly if they come out in the open and say directly:”This is part of our religion. The cow should be protected from slaughter and therefore we want its provision either in the Fundamental Rights or in the Directive Principles

At the end of the debate, Dr B R Ambedkar accepted the amendment and the House voted this amendment to be one of the Directive Principles.

Over the past 70 years, we have witnessed the confusion that has resulted due to the lack of clear direction from our Constitution with regard to this sensitive issue.

It is time, as part of the #Core agenda, to revisit this, and prohibit cow slaughter as a Constitutional Law rather than leaving it as a Directive Principle which cannot be mandated (as clarified by the Supreme Court in Akhil Bharat Gosewa Sangh vs State of A.P 2006)

Note: It is left to the discretion of the State Laws as it stands today. In that sense, the Constitution does not mandate cow slaughter prohibition.

No doubt there will be economic effects (I wouldn’t term it *costs*) of such a move. But I am sure the State has in its crafts various devices to overcome any potential adverse impacts. On the other hand, the positive impact it will have on the Hindu community in terms of re-assuring their religious, spiritual and cultural beliefs will be immeasurable.

One thought on “Ban against Cow-slaughter: Need for a Constitutional Mandate

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  1. I am of the opinion that if we leave the religion out of it & look for Scientific & economic rationale to formulate new laws in this matter then we would do justice to both the animals aka cattles as well as to the public.


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