Indian legislators have long debated whether and to what extent the state should make measures for cow protection. Even before the country’s independence, certain politicians and proponents of cow preservation wanted to enact a law prohibiting the killing of cows. However, due to the colonial government’s claimed goal of keeping neutral in religious matters, their ideas and petitions were ignored.

The Constituent Assembly was established in December 1946 to draught a Constitution for the new nation, and independence from British control was achieved the following year, making this ambition appear attainable.

When the process of writing the Constitution began, Mohandas Gandhi and other key officials received letters and telegrams requesting that cattle slaughter be made illegal. Gandhi was given the task of persuading Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel to pass such legislation. He urged them not to squander their money on telegrams, but rather to put it to good use by helping cows. Though Gandhi had previously advocated cow protection, the advent of communal violence and Partition depressed him during this period. He advised people not to demand anything that might further polarise people of various religions.



There was no clause pertaining to cow protection or forbidding cow slaughter in the first draught of the Constitution, which was presented to the Assembly in November 1948.

On November 24, 1948, Thakurdas Bhargava, a Congress member from Punjab, introduced an amendment to include such a provision in the Directive Principles of State Policy, saying, “To my mind, it would have been much better if this could have been incorporated in the fundamental rights, but some of my Assembly friends differed, and it is the desire of Dr Ambedkar.”

Article 48 of the Indian Constitution, which states, “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 breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle,” is the result of these debates and deliberations.

This was the first time in India that the ban of cow slaughter was included in a legal document. There was no such provision in the Government of India Act, 1935, or the criminal or procedural codes. Despite the fact that the Constitution was declared to be a secular text, this happened.

The Directive Principles established by Part IV of the Constitution are not enforceable in a court of law, but rather serve as recommendations for government conduct and policy. As a result, only when legislatures had passed laws may Article 48 become operational. Various attempts were made in the Indian Parliament in the 1950s to achieve legislation that would apply Article 48 on a pan-India basis, such as Seth Govind Das’s Indian Cattle Prevention Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1955.

Its goal was to totally ban the killing of cows, calves, and other milch and draught animals. During the debate on this Bill, Prime Minister Nehru stated that it was a subject for state governments to consider, not Parliament, and that he was willing to bet his prime ministership on it. The bill was defeated by a vote of 95 to 12 in the House.


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