Madhya Pradesh: Bill against cow vigilantism faces uncertain future

Milind Ghatwai
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Most of the lynchings reported between 2015 and 2018 were perpetrated by vigilante militias or the result of the atmosphere they created, often using social media. (Illustration: Mithun Chakraborty)

A Bill seeking to curb cow vigilantism, which was moved in Madhya Pradesh Assembly last year, appears to be headed for an uncertain future as members of a select committee formed to examine the legislation hold diametrically opposite views.

The Congress government moved the Bill on July 24, 2019. The Bill, which proposed an amendment to the anti-cow slaughter legislation, provides for a jail term ranging from six months to five years for people who engage in violence in the name of cow protection. It was referred to a select committee after BJP members opposed it, arguing that it will encourage cow slaughter.

A 10-member select committee was constituted on August 26 to study the Bill and recommend changes. It took the committee more than five months to hold its first meeting. Congress legislator and younger brother of former CM Digvijaya Singh is chairman of the committee. Besides Animal Husbandry Minister Lakhan Yadav and Law Minister P C Sharma, it comprises five Congress MLAs and three BJP MLAs.


What the Bill proposes

The Bill provides for jail term and fine for people who beat up or damage property or vehicles of those accused under the principal anti-cow slaughter Act. The Bill said those transporting cows from other states face a lot of difficulties because there is no provision in the principal Act for issuing transit permits. While the amendment sought to introduce a new section for issuing transit permit, it sought to add a new section to “prohibit violence, injury or hurt to any person...”

The differences between the members came to the fore after the committee’s first visit to Indore on February 23. Besides chariman Singh, only BJP MLA Rameshwar Sharma and Congress MLA Jhuma Solanki turned up for the visit during which they met NGOs that run gaushalas.

While Singh has said the committee’s visit to Indore was successful, Sharma has dismissed it as drama.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Singh said strengthening gaushalas financially was the only way forward because “then no cows will be left on the streets and consequently, gaurakshaks will vanish on their own’’.

“Gaushals that get government funds but don’t take care of animals should be penalised and this will ensure they don’t release cows. Cow vigilantism will stop the moment stray cows disappear from streets,’’ he said.

The BJP’s Sharma dismissed the meetings with those running gaushalas as inconsequential.

“The root of the problem is cow slaughter and beef (consumption). If you don’t act against those who indulge in cow slaughter, how will it stop? Besides strict enforcement of anti-cow slaughter Act, police officers in whose jurisdiction cow slaughter takes place should be punished. People are not mad to attack people, cow slaughter is an emotional issue for them,’’ he told The Indian Express.

“Abhi drama chal raha hai. Gaushala ki visit karni aur gaubhakti ka drama chal raha hai,’’ he said, referring to Chief Minister Kamal Nath recently inaugurating a gaushala in Chhindwara. He said a law against cow vigilantism could be misused against people engaged in cow protection. “If a truck driver carrying cows is merely questioned, he could accuse anyone of harassment,’’ the BJP MLA said.

Since there is no deadline to submit its report, the committee has decided to travel to other areas and meet more people. No plan has been chalked out as yet.

Meanwhile, the Assembly secretariat has decided to extend the deadline to invite suggestions on the amendment Bill. Less than a dozen people have responded to the appeal for suggestions by February 25.