Karnataka Anti-Cow Slaughter Bill: A Denial of Right to Nutrition

15 percent (or 180 million) Indians consume beef. This includes Dalits, Muslims, Christians and Adivasis.  

4 min read
 Karnataka Anti-Cow Slaughter Bill: A Denial of Right to Nutrition
“If India’s politicians had any connect with land and farming, they would understand the organic relationship farmers have with livestock, milk, manure and killing of cows. It is not a Hindu-Muslim issue as the government is trying to project. This is a farmer’s issue.”
A farmer in Karnataka about the anti-cow slaughter Bill

The post COVID-19 lockdown has brought out the worst of vested interests. While corporates are scrambling to acquire land and assets by blatantly pushing the government to tweak or do away with protective legal mechanisms, the government is making decisions that will have adverse and long-term social, nutritional, health and economic consequences.

One of them is the anti-cow slaughter Bill, which the Karnataka government has passed with great urgency, without even a pretence at the due process of democratic consultation, particularly with those who will be the most disaffected by this law. Any reasonable, fairly intelligent voter of the state should challenge this Bill, which is neither evidence-based nor rational, and viewed in the backdrop of the following issues.

Denial of Basic Nutritional Rights

Karnataka has dismal indicators when it comes to nutrition. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 4th round (2015), 39 percent children, especially those from the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities, are stunted (less height for age) while 40 percent are undernourished (less weight for age). Anemia is found in 56 percent of the children before starting their school life at six years.

Even prior to the lockdown, Karnataka had an unstable mid-day meal scheme, in spite of this being a legally mandated right of every child going to government or government-aided schools under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013. The scheme was already teetering under centralised contracts to Akshaya Patra which seems to be constantly lumbering through large-scale fraud, conflict of interest, pilferage, religious indoctrination and failure to abide by fairly straightforward norms.

Following the lockdown, the government has not provided the legally mandated mid-day meals or rations to the children of the state, from June to November 2020 (a period of six months).

The state-supported Ksheera Bhagya scheme, which provided 150 ml of hot milk to school-going children, was also summarily stopped June 2020 onwards. It is also to be noted that nutritionally superior eggs had been denied to children as part of the MDM only on the pretext that “they were already being given milk".

In effect, during the lockdown, all animal sources of food had been withdrawn from the mid-day meal for children. As a consequence, malnutrition in the state is going to increase even further, with a resurgence of several serious nutrition deficiency diseases, complicated by breakdown of regular immunisation during lockdown.

It is in this backdrop of dire nutritional crisis that the anti-cow slaughter Bill should be viewed. 15 percent (or 180 million) Indians consume beef. This includes Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Other Backward castes (OBCs) and Adivasis. Beef is one of the cheapest sources of animal foods, and a kilogram costs about Rs 250 compared to mutton which is about Rs 800/kg.

Organ meat is even cheaper. It is also nutritionally dense. In fact, the grass-fed Indian beef is a much sought-after in other countries because it is lean, unlike the stall-fed cattle.

Nutritional Benefits of Beef

Beef has several nutrients as listed below:

  • Superior quality protein comprises almost 26-27 percent of beef, containing all the nine essential amino acids, of particular importance to children, adolescents, pregnant and lactating women, in post-surgery patients, the elderly, as well as those who are engaged in hard labour.
  • Low levels of Vitamin D can cause rickets in children and osteomalacia/osteoporosis in adults. Deficiency of Vitamin D due to quarantine/self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic has been known to aggravate complications.
  • Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA) during pregnancy leads to increased maternal haemorrhage and premature birth and in children, serious consequences for cognitive, psychomotor, physical and mental development. Beef contains heme iron, which is better absorbed than non-heme iron from plant foods – which has inhibitors like phytates, polyphenols, calcium and phosphates, etc.
  • Zinc is an essential trace element in the body required for growth, fertility, immune function, taste, smell and wound healing. Animal foods are the most abundant sources of zinc and lean red meat can give approximately 40 mg zinc/kg. Green leafy vegetables and fruits are the poorest sources of zinc with a concentration of <10 mg/kg.
  • Vitamin A is required for immune function, vision and reproduction. Preformed Vitamin A has better bioavailability and are found in food from animal sources. Subclinical VAD in preschool children in India is 62 percent and inadequate dietary intake is the most important cause.
  • Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is found only in animal foods, particularly organ meats. It is important for mood, cognition, brain/neural regeneration, sleep, skin, sleep, etc. In low quantities, it can cause depression, sleep disturbances, mental health issues and neurological manifestations.

Attack on Cultural Eating Habits

In Indian villages, one cow, when killed, can feed many families over days, especially when dried or pickled. While banning cow slaughter in one fell swoop, has the government made alternative arrangements for these families? Are they somehow of lesser consequence than the cows of the state? It is no coincidence that it is these very same communities that will be targeted by brutal lynch mobs.

While on the one hand farmers face the prospect of economic downturn because of the anti-cow slaughter Bill, extortion, harassment and exploitation by vigilante gangs are also being enabled by the government.

Beef is a nutritionally superior food, with beef liver scoring even higher. For a child, a meal with beef in it is a treat. For a mother, it’s a child who has eaten a full meal. For a nutritionist, it is a nutritionally dense meal. For a doctor, it means better immunity, lesser malnutrition, fewer infections and lesser mortality. For the BJP, however, it is nothing more than vote bank politics. For the vapid elite of the state, it is nothing more than an armchair discussion. Elite ‘vegetarians’ can tut tut over their palak paneers and curd rice while bemoaning how people should ‘respect the law’.

What is a law, if it criminalises people’s nutritional rights and paves the way for unscrupulous lynch mobs to target some of the most vulnerable communities? Does social fabric, justice, fraternity, equality matter in Karnataka or do ‘rights’ vary based on one’s class, caste and religious location?

(Sylvia Karpagam is a public health doctor and researcher. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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