“Preserving and Improving the Breeds”: Colonial Cow Protection and the Prehistory of a Constitutional Directive

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 3:30 PM
Calvert Room (Omni Shoreham)
Catherine S. Adcock, Washington University in St. Louis
Recent events have underscored the danger that cow protection poses to religious and caste minorities in India, as Dalits and Muslims allegedly suspected of cattle-slaughter have been brutally assaulted or killed. These events have followed the strengthening of anti-slaughter laws.

Such laws originate with Article 48 of the Constitution of India, which directs the state to "endeavour to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines" and to "take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter" of cattle. In 1958, the Supreme Court cited Article 48 when it ruled it constitutional for the states to prohibit the slaughter of female cows.

Article 48 has been described as the product of a secularist compromise, in which Ambedkar and Nehru succeeded in couching cow protectionists' religious demands for a ban on cow-slaughter in the more neutral language of science and agriculture. But as Chigateri (2011, p. 146) has observed, Article 48 "reiterates the Hindu basis" of opposition to cow slaughter. As the restriction of slaughter came to be justified on secular grounds, minority rights were submerged or erased.

There was also a "Hindu basis" to the ostensibly secular framing of Article 48. Cow protectionists had used agricultural reasoning since Dayanand Saraswati in 1881. This paper details how such reasoning acquired a scaffolding of official and expert support in the last decades before independence. The colonial state has been praised for its secular stance on cow protection: colonial officials refused cow protectionists' demands by invoking the principle of religious neutrality, citing Muslims' right to sacrifice cattle at Bakr Id. Nonetheless, by 1948, alliances between colonial officials and cow protectionists had blurred any distinction between a secular or scientific concern with breed improvement, and a Hindu religious concern with preserving cattle life.

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