NEW DELHI – A high court in Rajasthan has asked the incumbent BJP-led government that the cow should be declared as a national animal. The court also asked the Centre to increase the duration of punishment for cow slaughter to life imprisonment.

The court has appointed the state chief secretary and Advocate General to take up the matter with the Centre.

The court directive comes amidst a nation debate on cow slaughter and beef consumption following a Central government directive banning sale of cattle for slaughter at animal markets, Hindustan Times reported.

The court also directed the state forest department to plant 5,000 plants in and around the cowshed every year.

Religious persecution over meat

More than 11 Muslim men have been killed in mob lynching across the country by Hindu mobs on suspicion of eating beef or smuggling cows in the past two years.

In 2015, a Muslim man was lynched by his neighbours near New Delhi over rumours he had slaughtered a cow. Police later said the meat was mutton.

Last month a hotel manager was beaten by a mob and his restaurant sealed in Jaipur after Hindu vigilantes accused him of serving beef.

Modi appointed Yogi Adityanath, a popular leader known for his fiery Hindu rhetoric, to head the country’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh, which is also home to much of the country’s Muslim-dominated meat industry.

Shortly after being sworn in, Adityanath launched a crackdown on abattoirs, grinding much of the industry to a halt. Several meat shops have been torched, closed down with force and meat – that was supposed to be supplied – was burnt by the cow vigilantes.

Riding a strong anti-meat sentiment, the BJP had promised in its manifesto to shut all mechanised slaughterhouses immediately after forming a government.

Last month, the state of Gujarat also increased the punishment for cow slaughter from seven years to life imprisonment.

Under the stiffened penalties, anyone caught transporting cows for slaughter could also face up to 10 years in jail.

States challenging the ban and schisms within the states

Last week, the Tamil Nadu High Court stayed the Centre’s decision to ban the sale and purchase of animals for slaughter at cattle markets for four weeks. The new cattle regulation was met with strong criticism as people in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal publicly protesting against it. Beef fests were organised by political outfits, where beef was cooked and distributed freely among locals.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to withdraw the ban. He said thousands of lives would be affected due to the new rules. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the state government would challenge the Centre’s decision in court. DMK’s working president M K Stalin led a protest against the ban on Wednesday in Chennai.

On Tuesday, a group of eight students allegedly attacked a PhD scholar studying in IIT-Madras for attending a beef fest held inside the campus. The student, identified as Sooraj, was allegedly attacked in the varsity. The attacker were reportedly led by another student, who is an ABVP sympathiser.

A trending hashtag, #Dravidanadu, on Twitter has also caused fear and paranoia in India as the old rebellion has been revived again in India’s southern states where interstate and intra-state grievances remain unresolved.

Comrade Nambiar, a Keralite who describes himself as a Marxist, seems to be tweeting from Dubai.

The hashtag was a response to the new cattle trade rules that the Union environment and forests ministry notified on May 25. Kerala was the first state to oppose the rules, which ban the sale of cattle in markets for slaughter. Chief Minister Pinayari Vijayan said his government will not implement the rules and warned the Centre against interfering with the dietary practices of Keralites.