While Pak bans bank in­ter­est, In­dia bans cows

Deccan Chronicle - - Oped - Aakar Pa­tel is a writer, colum­nist and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional (In­dia) Aakar Pa­tel

So far Pak­istan has had three con­sti­tu­tions. All three have one thing in com­mon, and it is the dis­like of in­ter­est and the mod­ern bank­ing sys­tem. The his­tory of this is not par­tic­u­larly Is­lamic alone. The Old Tes­ta­ment book of Leviti­cus specif­i­cally says that in­ter­est should not be charged on loans. Je­sus was very an­gry with money-chang­ers and money­len­ders and threw them out of the tem­ple in Jerusalem.

Ar­ti­cle 28 of Pak­istan’s 1956 Con­sti­tu­tion says that riba (which is the Ara­bic word for in­ter­est) should be erad­i­cated as early as pos­si­ble. This fea­ture was car­ried in all later Con­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing those writ­ten in the terms of Pres­i­dent Ayub Khan in the 1960s, Prime Min­is­ter Z.A. Bhutto in the

1970s and then mod­i­fied un­der Pres­i­dent Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s and Pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf in the

2000s. In 1991, the Shariah Ap­pel­late Bench of the Pak­istan Supreme Court de­cided that in­ter­est charged by banks in Pak­istan was il­le­gal. In 1999, the court de­cided it had to im­ple­ment the or­der. Of course in­ter­est is at the root of the mod­ern bank­ing sys­tem and Pak­istan’s econ­omy would to­tally col­lapse if the or­der had been passed. But the idea that in­ter­est is some­thing bad that god dis­ap­proves of runs strong in that so­ci­ety.

Pak­istan was then un­der the rule of a dic­ta­tor, Gen. Mushar­raf, and he was able to get the court to back off at that time. But the sen­ti­ment re­mains. In 2015, an­other Bill was pre­pared to do the same thing. As long as it re­mains in the Con­sti­tu­tion, there will al­ways be an at­tempt by some­one to im­ple­ment it. In­dia has the only non-ma­jori­tar­ian Con­sti­tu­tion in South Asia, mean­ing it does not priv­i­lege the rights of any one re­li­gion or its fol­low­ers.

Ar­ti­cle 48 of our Con­sti­tu­tion says: “The State shall en­deav­our to or­gan­ise agri­cul­ture and an­i­mal hus­bandry on mod­ern and sci­en­tific lines and shall, in par­tic­u­lar, take steps for pre­serv­ing and im­prov­ing the breeds, and pro­hibit­ing the slaugh­ter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cat­tle.”

There are two things to note here: First, the as­sump­tion that this is a sci­en­tific and eco­nomic en­deav­our and not a re­li­gious one. Sec­ond, that it is all milch cat­tle, in­clud­ing buf­falo. Draught cat­tle means those that are used to pull ploughs.

The word­ing may be sci­en­tific and eco­nomic but, of course, this is a re­li­gious act. It has trapped In­dia, just like Ar­ti­cle 28 has trapped Pak­istan.

On Fe­bru­ary 5, it was re­ported that three Mus­lim men in Mad­hya Pradesh had been ar­rested and booked un­der the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Act (NSA) for al­leged cow slaugh­ter. The NSA al­lows for pre­ven­tive de­ten­tion, mean­ing that the in­di­vid­u­als can be kept in jail with­out any crime be­ing com­mit­ted and only on the sus­pi­cion that they will in fu­ture com­mit a crime. They can be jailed in this fash­ion with­out trial for one year.

Some Con­gress lead­ers were up­set by this and asked if there was any dif­fer­ence be­tween their party and the BJP. When Rahul Gandhi was asked about this, he avoided a di­rect re­sponse and said that the Con­gress would re­move RSS peo­ple from po­si­tions of power.

On Fe­bru­ary 8, it was again re­ported from Mad­hya Pradesh that two men, one Hindu and one Mus­lim, had been ar­rested and jailed un­der the NSA, not for cat­tle slaugh­ter but for its il­le­gal trans­porta­tion.

A few things should be un­der­stood here. First, that the Con­gress does not have full con­trol over its ad­min­is­tra­tion and it will be dif­fi­cult to do what Mr Gandhi is say­ing he will do. The laws ex­ist and the of­fi­cers will act. The fact that they are in­vok­ing ex­treme laws for rel­a­tively mi­nor of­fences is in­ci­den­tal.

Once the Prime Min­is­ter and the chief min­is­ters of Ma­ha­rash­tra and Haryana pushed for this in 2014 and 2015, we have been trapped in a cy­cle of vi­o­lence that gives In­dia a bad name around the world. It will be dif­fi­cult to get out of this and we should all worry be­cause we come across on this sub­ject as un­hinged and fa­nat­i­cal. Most In­di­ans, in­clud­ing judges, do not take the sci­en­tific and eco­nomic read­ing of Ar­ti­cle 48. It is a re­li­gious read­ing and, there­fore, prone to pro­voke re­li­gious sen­ti­ment and ri­ot­ing and there­fore wor­thy of the NSA.

We can­not use the ar­gu­ment that the sci­en­tific and eco­nomic prin­ci­ples have out­lived them­selves or that farm­ers them­selves are suf­fer­ing, as we are see­ing with re­cent re­ports of stray cat­tle. Our judges have held that even old cows are eco­nom­i­cally pro­duc­tive be­cause they give dung.

Just like in Pak­istan, we will have to live with this el­e­ment of ex­trem­ism for­ever. For us it is the sword of vig­i­lan­tism and state tyranny on the weak, while Pak­istan’s sa­cred cow is a ban on bank in­ter­est.

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