"This Is Not Democracy": Karnataka's Cow Slaughter Bill Provokes Fury

The new act defines "beef" as the flesh of "cattle" - cows, calves, bulls, bullocks, and male and female buffalos below 13 years

The BJP brought cows into the Secretariat Wednesday after tabling the bill to perform a puja

Bengaluru:

Karnataka's controversial new cow protection act - which replaces legislation from 1964 that also prohibited the slaughter of cows - has been red-flagged for both tougher punishments and provisions that many are calling "undemocratic".

The new act defines "cattle" as including cows, calves, bulls, bullocks, and male and female buffalos below 13 years. "Beef" is defined as the flesh of cattle in any form.

Punishment for a first-time conviction ranges from a prison term of three to seven years and fines between Rs 50,000 and Rs 5 lakh. Subsequent convictions could invite fines of up to Rs 10 lakh and a jail term of up to seven years. The sale and transport of cattle for slaughter (within the state and across its border) is also prohibited.

Many have expressed concern over the new act.

"Muslims do not drink alcohol. But they have never requested any government to ban alcohol because it is against our religion. We have never requested Christians not to eat pork," a Bengaluru restaurant owner told NDTV.

"Those animals that have stopped giving milk. Farmers who have buffaloes they cannot sell in the market - what will happen to them?" the restaurant owner asked.

The ruling BJP has never hidden its plan made to introduce legislation on this issue.

KS Eshwarappa, the state's Rural Development minister, told NDTV: "The BJP government was there earlier and banned cow slaughter. But the Congress cancelled that and made cow slaughter possible. Now our life has become blessed. The dream of those who love cows has been realised."

The Congress, which says the new bill also hurts the interests of farmers, has accused the BJP of trying to polarise communities by targeting beef and its consumers ahead of local elections to be held later this month.

"The entire bill is against farmers. They are trying to polarise (people). The farming community which has been breeding cattle has been affected. They did not discuss... they brought it urgently because of gram panchayat (local body) elections... trying to saffronise things," DK Shivakumar, the chief of the Congress's state unit, said.

The opposition party also boycotted Thursday's Assembly session - despite an appeal from Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa - to protest what former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said was the "murder of democracy".

"Last time itself, cow slaughter bill was passed. There were some amendments which were presented in Assembly and approved. Congress people always oppose. I don't want to react to such things. I request them to come and attend Assembly," Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa said.

The Janata Dal Secular also opposed the bill, with former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy pointing out provisions that force farmers to feed and nurture certain breeds - that he said were "absolutely of no use" - would cost a minimum of Rs 200 per day and increase farmers' burdens.

Among other criticisms mounted by Mr Kumaraswamy was a "fear that provision to allow police and other officials to inspect premises may lead to harassment and fear psychosis".

The former Chief Minister also criticised the government for passing the bill in "a tearing hurry" and said that although the bill appears to protect cattle, "in the long run it is bound to affect cattle".

Mr Kumaraswamy warned the BJP that "if you try to make the sector unviable through such impractical clauses, then the trend of farmer suicides is bound to increase".

It doesn't stop with this bill.

The ruling BJP is also planning legislation targeting "love jihad" - the right-wing conspiracy theory that Muslim men enter into relationships with Hindu women to forcibly convert them - for a future Assembly session.