(With inputs from Shubham Tiwari)

From the past two years, the Indian public sphere has been dominated by the discourse on the so-called 'cow vigilantism' with a detestable religious angle to tarnish the image of the country in the world. Passionate liberal intelligentsia and people with vested interests are running this campaign vehemently to create a rhetoric that our country is going into the hands of religious fundamentalists and that mob rule is taking over the rule of law. “Cows in India are safer than Muslims” or “Hindustan is becoming Lynchistan”, is what this discourse has come to. Amidst all this, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, while disposing off a bunch of public interest litigations (PIL) on July 17, 2018, finally ordered that the State governments will appoint nodal officers in each district to stop mob violence and has recommended the central government to make a specific law against it.

The aforementioned PIL has been filed at the behest of a newbie politician for giving a boost to his political career, solely on the basis of newspaper articles and one-sided opinions written by some politico-journalists. The case filed by the so-called activist has portrayed only a one-sided picture and ominously put a curtain on the main reason behind such growing public outrage. It has all been done to reap political fruit by spreading a message that the present ruling dispensation is doing injustice to the minorities.

However, it is a well-settled principle under the law of evidence that no court will admit any evidence comprised of media reports and news articles for deciding any case or inferring any conclusion. This is because media reports do not always portray the absolute truth of any incident, they are a reflection of public sentiment and opinion, to which any court should not rely blind-folded upon; and the Hon’ble Supreme Court is not an exception to this rule. The decision of the abovementioned PIL is neither based on any admissible set of evidence nor has tried to reflect on the FIRs and other admissible pieces of evidence filed by the legitimate animal rights activists by way of an intervention application. 

To reflect upon the dangers of relying on media reports and arguments based on such presumptions by some activist lawyers, we may recall the incident of Ranaghat nun rape case that happened in March 2015. Just after the incident, media houses and some senior politico journalists linked this crime as a hate crime perpetrated by the Hindu groups against the minorities. Some political leaders even named RSS & BJP for this. But after a CBI investigation, the truth revealed was contrary to this and a session’s court in Kolkata punished illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants for this rape case. 

Suppose just after that incident somebody filed a PIL in the Supreme Court praying for a law against hate-crime, and for the nodal officers in each district to check on activities of Hindu groups. If the Supreme Court would consider such news articles reliable, then the truth wouldn’t have been revealed and we wouldn’t get justice. The truth can only be ascertained by judging any case by weighing evidence of both sides which should be admissible, and not based on mere opinions so that a clear picture of the situation can be ascertained and justice would be administered, not hindered.  
Any crime should be investigated by the police through a thorough investigation. Practically speaking, the higher courts have no means to come to any conclusion at a nascent stage of any crime. This is the main error which the court committed in this case. 
 After all, this was an Indian who had grown up seeing the importance of cow as the backbone of the rural economy that gives it a revered status in our society. This article scrutinizes all legal, economic, social and political aspects to lead to a conclusion that it is illegal cattle smuggling and a formidable ‘meat mafia’ which is the root cause of the problem and not the innocent gaupalaks. 

All of us know that the Vedic stature of the cow was 'Aghanya' i.e., it cannot be killed. During Islamic rule, the slaughter of cows was prohibited with strict penal provisions, and British rule witnessed a very strong gauraksha movement in the leadership of Swami Dayanand Saraswati. Gandhi himself said that the first government order in independent India would be to close these slaughterhouses. The following years have witnessed several massive public movements for prohibiting cow slaughter like the one in 1966 lead by Swami Karpatri and Acharya Vinoba Bhave. 

The voice of our Constituent Assembly to this sensitive issue finds its place since the inception of the Constitution where it gives a directive to the State in Article 48 to prohibit the slaughter of cows. The legislature in response to that constitutional mandate has enacted legislation with penal provisions in 22 states against cow slaughter which made it a cognizable offence and that has been upheld by Supreme Court as constitutional on several occasions. A seven-judge constitution bench of the apex court headed by Justice RC Lahoti in 2005 in the case of Mirzapur Moti Quraishi Kasab Vs State of Gujarat in Para 51 of the judgement has gone to an extent of equating Gauraksha to Fundamental Duty within Article 51(A)(g) of the Constitution. 

In this legal and political background, when we analyse the present situation, it turns out to be a sheer economic and law and order problem and those who are projected as victims are the real perpetrators who must be exposed.  

According to 19th Livestock Census, the number of milch animals (in-milk and dry), cows and buffaloes is 118.59 million, and after a rigorous scientific exercise in Mirzapur Moti Quraishi Case, the Supreme Court in Para 139 of the judgement held that “Majority of population is engaged in farming within which a substantial proportion belongs to small and marginal farmers’ category. Protection of cow progeny will help them in carrying out their several agriculture operations and related activities smoothly and conveniently. Organic manure would help in controlling pests and acidification of land apart from resuscitating and stimulating the environment as a whole”. 

For an agrarian economy like India, cattle are a source of an additional income from dairy products and substantially contribute to rural living. Now let us admit the fact that during the previous Congress regime, there was an official call of the Pink Revolution from the government itself and that lead to mushrooming slaughterhouses - both legal and illegal, throughout the country. Moreover, who does not know that the Bangladeshi leather industry is surviving on illegal cattle smuggling from the porous Indian border? Since Modi came to power in 2014, both the price of beef has gone up in Bangladesh and their leather industry has been dented. 

This promotion and support for the Pink Revolution produced a new category of skilled professionals in India in the form of cattle smugglers and it has adversely impacted rural Indians who sleep at night thinking their cattle wealth is secure, but next morning wake up to see their cattle missing. This is what has made them vigilant against these smugglers because when your livelihood is at risk, one cannot afford to buy the arguments which the elite liberal intelligentsia provide in our country. 

Now when we come to the argument of law and order, it will be pertinent to mention some important legal provisions. Section 43 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 authorizes a private person to arrest any person, who has, in his presence, committed a non-bailable and cognizable offence and one has a right to stop such offence from taking place. 

The right of defence for hapless animals on which atrocities are being committed illegally also lies with the civil society members as the cattle cannot come to its own private defence. Bentham, in his Principle of Penal Law, says, “The right of defence is absolutely necessary. The vigilance of magistrates can never make up for the vigilance of each individual on his own behalf.” 

In this entire episode, the so-called secular activists have portrayed the word ‘vigilantism’ in such bad light and negative connotation that it is being started to be perceived as a crime, but the legal position is contrary to this notion. Vigilant society is a need of the hour in this age of ever-increasing crimes. We cannot afford the help of the police all spheres of our life and neither can we make our society a coward that it should wait for the police to come and act even if somebody is committing a crime in front of a citizen. Our society today needs more diligent and vigilant citizens. 
When innocent people resist cattle smugglers they are threatened with the use of weapons which compels them to invoke their right of private defence of a person as well as of property. It does not seem that vigilant Indian farmers who are fighting for their fundamental right to livelihood guaranteed under the Constitution, are doing anything legally, constitutionally or morally wrong and culpable since law enforcement machinery is very often reluctant to act against these criminals. Common people themselves come to their rescue, permitted under ‘doctrine of necessity’ and that results in violent strife; and then if any causality happens on the side of the common people then there is no problem, as it is a genuine law and order issue but if smugglers are hurt then that news makes international headlines, subject of academic discussions in seminars and more importantly, it gives the necessary content to the propagandists against the government of the day. 

The problem which farmers are facing in rural India, the animal rights activists too is facing in urban parts of the country. The meat mafia has brutally targeted several of such activists whose numbers and names are just increasing by the day. Even the security forces, police and BSF personnel have lost their lives while stopping such smuggling, either on Inter-state borders or on the Bangladesh Border. It is deplorable that people in this country recognize the human rights of butchers and smugglers and have their definition not extended to human rights of our security forces or animal rights activists or farmers fighting for their livelihood. 

The truth has been shrewdly buried from the Hon’ble Supreme Court to inculpate the innocent and to get an element of sympathy to propagate the false agenda against the country. But the truth never dies, it comes out victorious amidst evils; it can only be disfigured but can never be defeated. Like symptomatic treatment can never cure the disease and sometimes aggravate the side effects, similarly, we have to address the root cause of this problem, which can only be achieved by making our police forces accountable for any incidence of cattle smuggling and towards proper implementation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.   

(Ayush is a practising Advocate at Supreme Court of India & Shubham is a student of Law at NALSAR Hyderabad)