An Adage: Mei kyah hatya ker me (Did I commit murder?)

Long before banning of beef in India, and the blasphemy law in Pakistan, a deadly combination of both was implemented and practised in Kashmir.

Different rulers, at different times, banned eating beef and slaughter of cow. The slaughter of a cow was called ‘hatya‘ (murder), and the accusation of the practice (hatya haanz) often ended in the most brutal of punishments. One such punishment was mesle waalun (skinning alive) and then being hung on the road-side.

There are written records of Pandits exploiting the law against Muslim neighbours, by accusing them of hatya, and mere suspicion of a Non-Muslim was considered proof enough.

Whether it be hatya haanz, or mesle waalun, both words have found a way into the local language, signifying the prevalence of the practice.

According to some historians Sultan ZainulAbidin (1420–1470 AD) banned cow slaughter out of respect for Kashmiri Pandit sentiments. According to Jonaraja, a Kashmir Pandit historian of the era, “Budshah, the great monarch” stopped the killing of cows, restricted the eating of beef and catching of fish in the sacred springs of the Hindus.

He is said to be the one of the first rulers to have penalised cow slaughter, largely as an attempt to appease the top brass Brahmins who had migrated out of Kashmir under the rule of his father Sultan Sikander Shah Miri.

Afghans however, were repressive against all the Kashmiris, irrespective of their caste, class or religion. Mahanand Pandit Dhar was the advisor to Governor Nooruddin Khan and later became the prime minister for Sukh Jeevan, an Afghan ruler. At the incitement of Dhar, the then governor banned Azaan and issued a ban on cow slaughter as well.

The 27 years of Sikh rule in Kashmir were marked by mayhem and catastrophe. On petition of influential top brass cow slaughter was re-banned by the second governor of the regime, Deewan Moti Ram, who ordered the closure of the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar to the public, and forbade saying the Azaan from the mosques in the valley. As noted historian GMD Sufi quotes earlier chronicler Munshi Mohammad-ud-Din Fauq writing on August 21, 1924, cow slaughter was punished with death during the time of Sikhs.

It was during this rule that three prominent businessmen of Kawoosa family were hung and their bodies dragged in the streets on false charges of cow slaughter. Khawaja Mohiuddin Kawoos and his son-in-law Mirza Kallu son of Khawaja Sidiq Kawoos, Sufi says, were well-known merchants of the city.

“Their dead bodies were dragged through the streets of Srinagar for the alleged offence of cow slaughter,” Sufi recorded.

GMD Sufi records a massacre of an entire family of 17 members, burnt alive in dry willow and cow dung, because of their alleged crime of cow slaughter by one Pirzada Samad Baba Qadri of Chatabal Srinagar. This massacre was supervised by Thanedar Bolka Nath.

Similarly 12 people from Hawal and 19 boatmen living on Doodganga stream were burnt alive on similar charges by Sujan Singh who was an official under penultimate command of the Sikh ruler.

There was revival of the law banning the cow-slaughter during Dogra period. The perpetrators of the ‘crime’ were dealt most morbidly. The punishments ranged from cutting off of noses, being hung at Fatah Kadal (for everyone to see and take a lesson) to the chopping of ears, burning the offender’s hair and sometimes even torching of their houses.

Most brutal punishments were inflicted on mere suspicion of intent to injure a cow.

Gulab Singh, officially, had declared life imprisonment for the crime of cow slaughter. Ranbir Singh, while still heir apparent, unhappy with this ‘liberty’ took his own measures to ensure that it effectively translated into a death penalty. One such incident in which a young man was incarcerated on the suspicion of cow slaughter, was ordered to be fed with food mixed with excess salt such that he died of dehydration. On another occasion ‘he slit a woman’s tongue for beating a cow that had torn the clothes she had hung out to dry’.

The unknown author of ‘Letters From India and Kashmir’ visited the valley in summer of 1870. In his Letter XIV titled Kohala To Srinuggur, he records his shock over the omission of beef price not available in Kohala, the gateway to Kashmir. “To kill one of them is a capital crime and opposed as His Highness is to capital punishment, or to the cutting off of a whole neck at once as the taking of life is contrary to Brahminical law yet anyone convicted of cow- murder, would be sentenced to imprisonment and punishment, from which death would be the hoped-for release,” the author wrote.

“Those animals, however, that die from old age, accident, or disease, may be eaten by the Pariah caste both of Hindoos and Mussulmen.”

On his way back to Murree, he detailed in his Letter XVII titled ‘Gulmarg To Murree’, the amazement of Kashmiri boys on seeing beef. “The lads, Muhammedans, had never seen beef before, and were much astonished at the large pieces of it in the bazaar,” he wrote. “But they could not be induced to taste it, fearing that their doing so would come to the knowledge of the Maharajah, and that they would be punished.”

“Till recently, out of deference to the prejudices of the minority, it was a capital offence throughout Cashmere to kill a cow,” Anthony George Shiell recorded in his ‘A year In India’ after visiting Kashmir in 1880. “Even at present the penalty is imprisonment for life, accompanied by corporal punishment, involving not only the actual delinquent, but also the whole of his family and this (is) because Sikh tenderness begins and ends with the sacred cow.”

In his ‘Making of a Frontier’ (published 1900), Algernon Durand wrote: “There were still at this time unfortunate Mahomedans in prison at Srinagar, who had been confined for years, for keeping themselves and families alive during a famine by killing and eating cows.”

Political scientist Gull M Wani writes during Dogra era, “there were cases of men being boiled in oil for killing a cow,” Wani recorded, “in 1920 out of the 117 prisoners in Kashmir jails 97 were held for cow slaughter.”

Historian Mohammad Yusuf Saraf in his ‘Kashmiris Fight for Freedom’ talks about the introduction of a “cow protection scholarship,” in the later part of Dogra rule.

After the failure of Sir Barjor Dalal Commission in 1933, Maharaja Hari Singh set up 20-member Royal Commission of inquiry under Chief Justice Ganga Nath on July 14, 1944, to look into the Muslim grievances. One of the nearly 200 witnesses was Maulvi Mohammad Abdullah Nasr-u-Din, who explained the justification for cow-slaughter and repealing of the penal law. He is reported to have quoted extensively from Vedas and Shastras to support his contention. The Commission faced boycott and lost its significance but its chairman is understood to have made certain recommendations included reducing sentence in cow-slaughter to two years from the previous duration of 10 years.

Until August 5, 2019 intentionally killing or slaughtering a cow or similar animal (including ox and buffalo) remained a cognisable, non-bailable offence punishable with 10 years imprisonment and fine under Section 298A of the Ranbir Penal Code, applicable to J&K.

In many parts of Srinagar eating beef is still not preferred and is even detested by many. The origin of such abhorrence is this historical fear that has metamorphosized over decades into a revulsion.


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