by Gautam Pemmaraju
On January 7th news publications ran reports of a young Muslim cattle trader being harassed by members of the Hindu right-wing Bajrang Dal in Madhya Pradesh. A group stopped 25-year-old Anish Aslam Kureishi, son of a cattle trader of Chhindwara district, on December 31st, who was ferrying cattle. The men demanded money from him and on his refusal, they damaged his pick-up truck, dragged him to a village close by, beat him up, shaved part of his head off, as well as one eyebrow and half his moustache, and left him there tied to a pole. While the group claimed that the cattle were headed to an illegal slaughterhouse, the father of the waylaid man stated that they were meant for sale at a nearby market, and his younger brother said that they often paid off the Bajrang Dal to escape harassment. There have been subsequent reports quoting the police and administration that the entire family has been involved in illegal cattle transport.
This incident followed a widely reported amendment to the state’s cow protection laws that received presidential sanction on December 22nd. The amendment, as several commentators have pointed out, extends the scope of the already stringent anti-cow slaughter laws, which expressly prohibits the killing of cows, by increasing the jail term for those caught killing cows, transporting or selling beef, to up to 7 years. In addition, the BJP led government, by way of this amendment, also invests public officials with extraordinary powers to enter, search premises on suspicion of cow slaughter and beef storage, as well as to make arrests. The burden of proof is also transferred to the accused, making this law not only dangerously harsh, but also of dubious constitutional character. The Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s ‘dream’ has come true, according to the state’s Culture & PR Minister, who further added that the administration was keen to enforce the provisions of the Act ‘in letter and spirit’.
Several commentators have been quick to attack the draconian provisions of this already pernicious Act, pointing out that they mimic those of anti-terror laws. The BJP led central government has in the past also attempted ‘more robust application’ (read here and here) by attempting to amend law to bring detention under the ambit of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which was repealed by the Congress led UPA government in 2004.