A southern Indian state announced Sunday it would go to the supreme court to challenge a federal ban on the sale of cows for slaughter, stepping up a showdown with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Cows are considered sacred by Hindus and the Hindu nationalist leader has pushed for greater protection of the animals since taking power in 2014.
On Friday the federal environment ministry issued a nationwide order banning the sale and purchase of cattle from markets for slaughter.
“We are finalising our legal response and will file a plea in the Supreme Court next week,” Kerala state’s Agriculture Minister VS Sunil Kumar said.
The slaughter of cows, and the possession or consumption of beef, is already banned in most Indian states, with some imposing up to life imprisonment for infringements. Cases of slaughtering cows have triggered communal violence.
But Kerala and a handful of other states – despite having Hindu majorities – allow the slaughter and the consumption of beef.
The federal order covers trade in bulls, bullocks, cows, buffaloes, calves and camels.
The national government said it aimed to regulate the industry and ensure the welfare of animals, which often suffer cruelty in markets.
But Kumar said Modi’s government was fulfilling the agenda of Hindu groups, which demand a nationwide ban on cow slaughter.
“It is unconstitutional and since the Modi government cannot ban cow slaughter, it is taking refuge behind animal cruelty to fulfil its right-wing Hindu agenda,” he said.
Beef is a popular food in the coastal state, which is ruled by a left-wing government, like several states in eastern India.
On Saturday left-wing activists organised “beef fests” across Kerala to protest against the ban as state chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote a protest note to Modi.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party pledged to impose a countrywide ban on the slaughter of cows ahead of the 2014 national elections.
But the federal government has failed to persuade opposition parties to back such a law, leaving radical Hindu groups furious over the government’s failure to protect the animal.
At least a dozen people, mostly Muslims, have been killed by Hindu mobs over rumours that they were eating beef, slaughtering cows or smuggling them.