- Karnataka passed the stringent bill on Wednesday
- The bill's definition of "cattle" include bulls, buffaloes under 13 years
- Cow slaughter is already banned in the state since the 1960s
"Earlier, life was at risk for vigilantes... not those who were in the (cattle) trade," CN Ashwath Narayan, Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka told NDTV, in response to concerns that the state's new anti-cow slaughter bill will protect and embolden 'Gau Rakshaks'.
Karnataka's BJP government passed the stringent Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2020 on Wednesday amid protests in the assembly. Cow slaughter is already banned in the state since the 1960s. The bill expands the definition of "cattle" to include bulls and buffaloes under 13 years of age and hardens the punishment for people involved in any form of cattle slaughter.
Section 17 of the bill shields from legal action "persons acting in good faith". Although it is unclear whether the section can be applied to cow vigilantes, Mr Narayan said that the bill was framed with them mind. "Vigilantes or anyone who is working for a cause and the law of the land should definitely have a scope to work in this provision," he said.
Since 2015, there have been 115 incidents of cattle-related mob violence across the country in which 46 people died and 146 were injured, none of whom were from among the vigilante attackers, according to data compiled by NDTV.
But Mr Narayan said "in Karnataka, it is only the cow vigilantes who have lost their lives".
The minister claimed that the vigilantes in Karnataka were putting themselves at great risk. "People in the (cattle) trade were completely armed. They were taking lives and killing people. It is not the vigilantes,: he said, citing data that is not available in the public domain.
According to the statement of objects and reasons in the bill, the state government wants to ensure the "preservation and improvement of breeds of cattle" and "organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry". Mr Narayan, however, emphasised the cultural importance of the cow.
"We need to protect and promote our culture. That is the main reason for us to... come out with a law. Not with any agenda. We are already in power," he said.