A proposal to completely ban slaughtering of cows in Sri Lanka has been approved by the parliamentary group of the ruling party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Front). On 8 September, 2020, Prime Minister Mahindra Rajapaksa made the proposal while addressing the party’s parliamentary group meeting to discuss the agenda for the week. The entire cabinet unanimously accepted the PM's proposal, said Cabinet spokesman and Minister of Mass Media Keheliya Rambukwella while addressing the press.
Talking about the proposal, the Sri Lankan PM said that the proposal was quite old and existed since the time of Buddhist Nationalist leader Anagarika Dharmapala but no government was able to legislate against it. The Sri Lankan PM also made a proposal to import beef from other countries instead of butchering cows for beef within the country so as to take care of the meat requirements of some of its citizens. Cabinet spokesman informed that his proposal has been approved by the parliamentary group and the proposal was made by the PM in his capacity as the Minister of Buddha Sasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs.
Buddhists constitute 70% of Sri Lanka’s population and most Buddhists do not eat beef, as they consider cows sacred. Buddhism enjoys preeminence even in Sri Lanka’s constitution, which states that “it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana” while ensuring freedom of religion as a fundamental right. However, The Animal Act of Sri Lanka which exists today prohibits slaughtering of cows and cow-calves but allows the same in certain cases when it is certified by an appropriate authority.
The section of the Sri Lankan Animal Act covering the issue says:
2. Slaughter of cows and cow-calves prohibited.
(1) No person shall slaughter, or cause or permit to be slaughtered, any cow (other than a cow imported for slaughter) unless that cow is certified by the appropriate authority to be—
(A) Not less than twelve years of age, or
(B) Incapable of breeding, or
(C) Unfit to be used for any agricultural purpose, and except in accordance with such regulations as may be in force under this Act relating to the slaughter of cows.
However, the present proposal by the PM ensures that no slaughter of cows happen under any circumstances.
Timeline of ban on cow slaughter in Sri Lanka
In 2009, the Animal Act was amended where in some exceptional cases, slaughter cows was allowed in Sri Lanka. In the same year, a Private Member's bill on total prohibiting the slaughter of cattle (cow) was given to the Speaker of the Sri Lankan House. Wijedasa Rajapaksha, the sponsor of the bill and a ruling party member, argued that killing cattle in Sri Lanka is a breach of the precepts of Buddhism. If enacted, the legislation would criminalise the slaughter of cattle, the sale of the flesh of any cattle slaughtered in Sri Lanka, and aiding someone else in such slaughter or sale. He had also said that slaughter of cattle was one of the main reasons for the decline of the country’s agriculture and dairy industries. He said that 90 percent of the slaughter of cattle was “done on fake licences obtained through bribes”, and that cattle-theft was a big problem. “In the Gampaha district alone about 300 head of cattle are stolen every month,” he had said.
In 2013, Wijedasa Rajapaksha's private member bill could not become a law but the demand or protest to completely stop on cow slaughter started increasing. In the same year, a Buddhist Monk Bowatte Indraratna, committed self-immolation to protest against the practice of cow slaughter. He died after a few days of setting himself on fire near the famous Temple of Buddha's Tooth Relic in the central town of Kandy. Since then, all political parties in Sri Lanka are demanding a ban on cattle, especially cow slaughter in the country.
In 2015, Former Sri Lankan government minister Mervyn Silva and Buddhist monks called for the government to bring in laws to ban the slaughter of cattle. Many Buddhist and Hindu groups had joined the demand through protests and seminars on the issue.
In 2018, A Hindu group called ‘Seva Senai’, based in northern Sri Lanka, staged a protest in Jaffna, calling for a ban on cow slaughter and the sale of beef in the town of Chavakachcheri. “This is the land of Hindus and Buddhists. We worship the cow. Our tradition must be respected,” they had demanded.