Cows and constitutionalism

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Abstract

Cows have been the subject of political petitioning in South Asia for over a hundred years. This article examines the changing relationship between communities and the state in India through the transformation of petitioning practices-from 'monster' petitions, to postcard campaigns and constitutional writs-by the proponents and opponents of the cow protection movement from the late nineteenth century through to the first decades of independence. The article shows that, instead of disciplining and formalizing popular politics, petitioning provides channels for mobilization and disruption. As Hindus and Muslims engaged in competitive petitioning to rally a public, persuade the executive, or litigate through the courts, the question of cow slaughter was recast from one of community representation to religious belief, to property rights, to federalism, and, finally, questions of national economic development. In the absence of representative government in colonial India, Hindus for cow protection generated massive petitions which argued that they represented popular democratic will. Despite the lack of a constitution, Muslim petitioners sought to establish a judicially enforceable framework to protect their right to cow slaughter. Independence, which brought both democracy and a written constitution, caused a fundamental break with older claims and forms of petitioning, and led to both Hindus and Muslims seeking to settle the debate through writ petitions before constitutional courts.

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APA

De, R. (2019, January 1). Cows and constitutionalism. Modern Asian Studies. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0026749X18000422

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