Nepal is notorious for its slow legal procedure, often taking years to decide even a minor case. But half a year ago, on April 3rd, acting with astonishing speed, a verdict was passed within two weeks against a 50 year old woman of Tibetian origin sentencing her to 12 years in prision. Her crime – cow slaughter. Evidence – some beef sukuti found in her house. The story of Kripa Bhoteni was well publicized in the international media, though it failed to attract much attention in Nepal. Neither the authorities nor the human rights activists did anything. It seems we are more interested in implementing the law than understanding the injustices in the law itself.
Several important issues in the case not withstanding (she could have imported the beef from Tibet; it was a yak calf she killed, as she claims, and that is perfectly legal), the very fact that bovine life can be equated with 12 years of human is ludicrous in itself. And more so now when we have declared the secularity of Nepal. Will we stay a secular nation only on paper, all other laws being as they are? Does criminalizing cow slaughter not contradict with the new declaration of secularism (which also says all laws that contradict the new declarations are void and null)?
Over the past years, several indigenous people have been convicted of cow slaughter, mostly, activists argue, due to personal vendetta. Find a carcass and convict your enemy – as easy as that. Furthermore, many indigenous cultures have traditionally consumed beef as a part of their diet. All convicted are mostly economically underprivileged and socially marginalized people. If you are rich, you can get away with it. Even in Kathmandu, there are numerous steak houses, and I assure you, it isn’t only Yak where the meat comes from. Cow slaughter has been a means to subjugate the indigenous population.
What’s more – indigenous communities are hopelessly underrepresented in the judicial sector. Also, forced to communicate in a language they cannot speak in courts, there was once even a case where a simple confusion between the word ‘mareko’ (to die) and ‘maareko’ (to kill) led to a conviction (Shom Lal Tamang vs. HMG).
It is time we think what it really means to be secular. Are we ready to redefine laws? Are our politicians ready to risk their predominantly Hindu constituencies by representing what is just? Or will we have to rely on another righteous lawyer to take the issue to the Supreme Court? I am reminded of Jawaharlal Nehru who said that he would much rather resign from his post as the prime minister than criminalize cow slaughter no matter how widespread the sentiment for it.