India’s Supreme Court on Friday rejected a petition seeking a nationwide ban on cow slaughter, a flashpoint issue for Hindus who consider the animal sacred. The act would have been a measure that would have effectively banned beef consumption in the nation of 1.25 billion.
Cows are revered in the Hindu scriptures as the ‘mother’ of civilisation and many worshippers equate the slaughter of cows or eating beef as blasphemy.
But millions from India’s huge minority populations — including Muslims, Christians and lower caste Hindus — eat beef, which isn’t widely available and is banned altogether in some states while eight of India’s 29 states permit the consumption of beef or the slaughter of cows.
“One state may ban slaughter, the other may not, and we will not interfere in state laws.” the court said in rejecting the petition.
Several radical religious groups and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have long campaigned to implement a nationwide ban on cow slaughter. The BJP won national elections in 2014 with a thumping majority, pledging in part to enact their wish. But so far the government in Delhi has failed to convince the states to pass such sweeping measures.
Some BJP-ruled states have in recent years pushed through tougher penalties including ten-year jail terms for those convicted of cow slaughter or possession or consumption of beef.
Simmering tensions over the issue have spilt into violence since BJP’s national ascent to power, with a string of attacks on minorities by right-wing Hindu vigilantes resulting in the deaths of at least 10 people.
In 2014, a 50-year-old Muslim man accused of slaughtering a cow and consuming its meat was murdered by a mob at his home near New Delhi.
This act prompted international outrage and accusations of a rise in religious vigilantism under the Modi administration.