Cow slaughter ban could deepen Buddhist-Muslim divide in Sri Lanka | Will the gap between communities be widened in this country by banning the slaughter of cows?

New Delhi (Achal Malhotra): Sri Lanka’s ruling party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), has made it clear its intention to completely ban cow slaughtering across the country. Prime Minister Mahendra Rajapaksa is said to have obtained the consent of the party’s parliamentary group on this issue and that the necessary steps are now expected to make this law.

However, those who eat beef will likely be allowed to import beef from third countries. Sri Lanka, with an estimated population of 22 million, is inhabited by people of many races and religions. Of these, 70.2% are Buddhists, 12.6% Hindus, Muslims (also known as Sri Lankan Moors) 9.7% and Roman Catholic Christians 6.1%. These include citizens who are descendants of Europeans living in Sri Lanka and married women here.

Sri Lankans are generally not vegetarians. However, Buddhists and Hindus who worship the cow for cultural and religious reasons oppose the ox and call for a ban on the slaughter of cows. In contrast, beef is part of their main diet for Muslims and Christians (especially those of European descent).

If the per capita meat availability in the country is observed for the whole year, then the beef is far behind the chicken here. It comes second with 1.8 kg per person. While the availability of chicken is 9.7 kg per person. But beef is much higher than pork (0.32 kg per person) and mutton (0.1 kg per person).

Between the two, there was a demand for a complete ban on the slaughter of cows. As a result, the Animal Welfare Act 1958 (amended 1994) provided that a cow or her calf under 12 could not be slaughtered.

Influential Sinhala Buddhists (especially those in the priestly class) nonetheless kept the pressure on governments, although they failed in their goal of banning the complete culling of cows.

The reason for the latest proposal to completely ban the slaughter of cows
In recent months, the Rajapaksa brothers have considerably strengthened their political power. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was elected president in November 2019. Recently, Mahindra Rajapaksa was re-elected Prime Minister of the country. His SLPP party won a big victory in the August 2020 elections. The SLPP won 145 out of 225 seats.

Mainly, the Rajapaksa brothers have no compelling reason to announce their intention to ban the slaughter of cows to please the Sinhala Buddhists or the Hindu minority. The opinions of the less influential Muslim and Christian minorities do not make political sense either.

However, two months after coming to power, two credible reasons for making this announcement appear. First of all, Rajapaksa would like to thank his SLPP party for the full and unreserved support of Buddhists through this announcement. This announcement may have been made so that they can be reassured that their government demand (ban on beef) remains a priority.

More importantly, there is a need to maintain the support of Sinhala Buddhists in the context of the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution, whereby the 19th Amendment made in 2015 by previous governments can be abolished or changed. Thanks to this amendment, the powers of the executive chairman have been reduced and the strength of Parliament and independent committees has been increased.

Sri Lankan rulers can find distinctions among the Sri Lankan Swadesi Hindu-Tamil minorities of the Northern Provincial Council, some of whose rights they were denied under the 23rd Amendment, particularly police and land rights.

What will happen next?
Anytime this ban is imposed, it can widen the gap between Sri Lankan Sinhala Buddhists and Muslims. Sri Lanka already has a history of ethnic conflict. Although the longest bloody conflict (1983-2009) internationally took place between the LTTE-dominated Sri Lankan government and Sinhala Buddhists, all ethnic conflicts between Muslims and Buddhists took place in Sri Lanka.

Islamopobia is also seen at a level in Sri Lanka. Buddhists have questioned all religious and cultural practices of Muslims, for example, why do women wear burqas? Why do Muslims only eat Halal meat? Buddhists claim that the process of halal meat is very painful and goes against the compassion principle of Buddhism.

Trust between the two communities weakened further when serial bombs were detonated in churches and hotels in Colombo in April 2019. Buddhists suspect that militant Islamic organizations must have helped some of these terrorists. Hundreds of people were killed in this serial explosion.

The struggle between Buddhists and Muslims started recently, it lasted 10 days. During this time, there was a clear anger towards Muslims. Human rights organizations around the world have condemned the increase in incidents of violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka.

This ban will not affect Sri Lanka financially, it does not. There will be additional pressure on foreign exchange reserves, which are already in very bad shape, before the import of beef. This will not only increase its cost, but also affect the pockets of consumers. It is also expected to affect the jobs of the population, but supporters of the ban argue that it will open new avenues in the dairy sector, employment will increase.

There are also problems related to infrastructure for the maintenance of cows which have become financially unproductive due to their sterility. Will the Buddhist community agree to assassinate them or export them? Will the government move forward ignoring the potential socio-economic implications? It remains to be seen how and when the Sri Lankan Government legalizes its stated goal.

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