India Uncut

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Do cows have rights?

Mid Day reports:
After arresting three persons for having sexual intercourse with a cow, the Guna police is not sure how to proceed with the case against them.

The trio has been booked under Section 377 (unnatural offences) of the Indian Penal Code.
Yes, yes, the picture caption there is somewhat amusing, but we're not talking subeditors, we're talking cows. The link was sent to me, via separate emails, by Vikram Doctor and Gaurang Bookseller, and Gaurang wrote, "I want to shoot these bastards, on grounds of animal cruelty."

Well, I don't. Indeed, it would be terribly hypocritical of me to protest, since I eat beef with immense relish. Every time I bite into a nice, juicy steak -- I like mine medium-rare -- I am effectively supporting the killing and eating of cows. I can't then argue for the rights of cows, wherever that concept may arise from, and say that you should not hump them. Anybody who argues that the cow has been violated in this case should also then argue that the cow should not be killed eventually, and it should not be molested every day, with its udders squeezed mercilessly for milk.

Indeed, what these three men have done is more unusual than my eating beef, but not more immoral. Therefore, I echo Vikram's worry about these men. Vikram had written in his email:
Personally let me say that as someone who also harbours good feelings towards cows I think what these men did was quite wrong. But this could end up being really serious for the men. The BJP government in MP has imposed a total ban on cow slaughter in the state and has been expending much energy and money to set cowsheds to take care of sick cows. In such circumstances these men could have their 377 case made even worse by charges of gang rape and more.

The only thing that needs to be added is that this is the same law that is used to harass and criminalise gay men.
Indeed, Section 377 is the worst of many terrible laws in our country that value some kind of antiquated ethical code over individual freedom. By making illegal "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal," it effectively bars all homosexual sex, and leaves much else, such as anal intercourse with a member of the opposite sex, open to the interpretation of individual judges. Naturally, my position (no pun intended) is that the state has no business interfering in any act between consenting adults, and I entirely support the recent initiative to get Section 377 scrapped.

Of course, this case is somewhat complicated, because the cow cannot be said to have consented, or even to be capable of consent. That is why having one law to cover both bestiality and homosexuality is silly, although I would say that laws aren't needed to cover either of them. As far as I am concerned, the only crime in this case is a property-rights violation, assuming that the cow did not belong to one of the three men in question. Even then, would you sue a guy who rubbed himself up against your car? Where does a cow fit in the continuum between person and inanimate property?

For cow lovers appalled at my inability to defend the rights of the cow in question, I can just shrug and look down in embarrassment. I'm a lapsed vegetarian, someone who read Peter Singer and Tom Regan once, who believed that causing pain to animals was wrong. But I eat meat now, and I can come with 100,000 pathetic rationalisations for it. If the cow in this story was to come before me and look my way with accusing eyes, I'd simply say, "I'm sorry, but it wasn't me who did that to you, and it isn't you I'll be having for dinner tonight." How lame.

(Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68.)

Update: I kept this post in my drafts folder while I wrote to Vikram asking for permission to quote him. He duly consented, and I can't help but quote from his second mail:
There is, btw, a long and bizarrely entertaining history of the use of s.377 in bestiality cases. Like the guy who was caught having sex with a chicken or, my favourite, Khandu vs. Emperor, where Khandu was this guy who was caught having sex with a buffalo's nostril which strikes me as positively dangerous. Wouldn't the buffalo sneeze? And isn't the nostril too close to the buffalo's teeth? But it all goes to show the absurdity of having this same law apply to consensual gay sex.
Great joy. I'm a huge fan of nostrils now.
amit varma, 3:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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