Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Who Killed My Cow?

So Madhya Pradesh's ban on cow slaughter is about to be written law. It's quite a thorough set of protections. In fact, if you're a cow or a "cow progeny" Madhya Pradesh is probably the safest place to be right now.

I haven't killed cows and don't intend to do so. So I don't have a problem with this law. Thankfully, Madhya Pradesh hasn't banned the consumption of beef. If you can afford the cost of transporting the meat from another state, no problem. That's at least slightly better than the total ban on alcohol in Gujarat, no?

Also, as my former colleague Sumit Nagpal points out, preventing cow slaughter is technically, one of the Directive Principles of our Constitution. A nod to Mahatma Gandhi, perhaps.

So what do I have a problem with? Well, it's this. The MP law requires anyone accused of cow slaughter to prove they aren't guilty (see Section 12). In fact, six of 21 states that ban cow slaughter - according to this Ministry of Agriculture list - put the burden of proof on the accused (The Agriculture Ministry's list is incomplete as it contains just 24 states).

Section 12 of Madhya Pradesh's Act violates two long-held principles of justice. The first is that the accused is always innocent until proven guilty. The second, to prevent false accusations, is that the burden of proof must lie on the prosecution.

Without these safeguards, the MP law opens the door to false accusations. POTA & TADA - two laws quoted by Sumit to me in support of the MP law - were rightly criticised because of this draconian tendency. Those laws resulted in innumerable false accusations. In TADA's case, there was a 95% acquittal rate. While the acquittals came as good news, the suspects will never get back their time in jail as under-trials. The false cases also wasted thousands of precious man-hours of court time. Thankfully, neither law is in force any longer.

 With the MP law, there's an added danger. Cow slaugther is a delicate subject with deep sensitivities. The subject has resulted in riots previously. Can any government guarantee this won't happen again?

In the interest of preserving principles of justice, protecting the innocent, valuing the precious time of our courts and keeping public order, the governments of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi, must strike off this unfair, illegal and dangerous clause.

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