Madhya Pradesh government’s stringent law against cow-slaughter has become a handy tool to terrorise and extort money from innocent cattle traders.

The latest in a spate of  such incidents occurred on August 31 in Sanawad town of Khandwa district in west Madhya Pradesh when members of  a so-called cow protection group – Gauraksha Samiti – thrashed and partially tonsured four persons, while accusing them of carrying cattle for slaughter in two pick-up vehicles.

The victims had bought the cattle for agriculture purposes from a weekly fair and produced the receipt of the purchase to the assailants but to no avail.

The cattle buyers were forcibly taken to nearest Dhangaon police station where they were booked under the 2011 law on cow slaughter that puts the onus of proving the prosecution wrong on the accused. A person found guilty of cow slaughter is liable to imprisonment up to seven years and a minimum fine of Rs 5, 000. It also empowers even a head police constable to arrest a person charged with consuming beef or slaughtering a cow. The arrest could be made on mere suspicion and that was what the police did in this case.

The four cattle buyers were booked on suspicion. They were released on bail by the Sanavad court of a first class judicial magistrate on September 2, after 24 hours in police custody and as many hours in jail.

The police however, spared the assailants. Dhangaon police station personnel told journalists that a case will be registered against them but no action has followed so far, according to local media reports.

Rakesh Thapak, the lawyer of the four accused, said his clients may have suffered more humiliation had they been Muslims. “The goons also stripped the victims to ascertain their religion.”

Draconian law

Earlier, on August 12, Bajrang Dal activists vandalised trucks allegedly involved in cattle smuggling in Jabalpur in central Madhya Pradesh. Police had seized several trucks carrying cattle on suspicion of smuggling.

The goons stormed the spot and stopped the trucks. When it transpired that the cattle were not being smuggled, they created a brawl and alleged that the animals were filled in the trucks in a very inappropriate manner due to which some of them died and several others were injured. They lifted the roadblock only after police thrashed some of them.

Hooliganism and extortion in the name of cow protection has become so common in Madhya Pradesh that most such incidents go unreported in the media. Its root cause is the “Gau-Vansh Vadh Pratishedh (Sanshodhan) adhiniyam” or the Madhya Pradesh Prohibition of Slaughter of Cow-Progeny (Amendment) Act that was promulgated in December 2011. The Act replaced Madhya Pradesh Gauvansh Pratishedh Adhiniyam (Madhya Pradesh Bovine Prohibition Act, 2004), which was passed during the tenure of another Bhartiya Janata Party Chief Minister, Uma Bharati.

Madhya Pradesh is the first State where the consumption of beef was made illegal. Under the 2011 Act, “a police constable or anyone authorised by a competent authority shall have the power of entry, inspection, search and seizure and to present the case in court.” According to the law, “no person, including a transporter, shall transport or offer to transport or cause to be transported any cow progeny, either by himself or through an agent, servant or any other person acting on his behalf, within the State or outside it, with the knowledge that the calf would be or was likely to be slaughtered”.

When the Act was adopted, it had attracted huge attention from legal experts. “The whole burden-of-proof clause goes against the fundamental tenet of criminal law, that is, you are innocent until proven guilty,” Vijay Hiremath, a Mumbai-based lawyer with the Centre for Access to Rights, was quoted as saying in a national daily.

However, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan maintains that the anti-cow slaughter act was necessary to boost the agrarian economy that is hugely dependent on cattle. Ironically, buffalo slaughter is permitted in the State, and Madhya Pradesh is one of the biggest exporters of buffalo meat in India.

Hypocrisy unlimited

Incidentally, while the saffron activists claim to protect the holy animal, they faced acute embarrassment when one of their members was arrested on the charge of transporting cows for slaughter.

Former district convener of BJP's cow cell, Vipin Bilauha of Katni district and his two accomplices, ML Jain and Kandhi Yadav, were charged under sections 4, 6, and 9 of the Act in January 2013. They were accused of transporting over 150 cows and calves for slaughter from Badagaon to Ganiyari when they were stopped about 35 km from Katni.

Earlier, the very same Bilauha and other Bajrang Dal members used to regularly raid vehicles to check if they were carrying cattle meant for cow slaughter.