Sri Lanka’s cows are mooing sighs of relief. The government has banned cattle slaughter. Officials say the ruling will benefit the dairy industry and funnel much-needed funds to the government. But some people believe the decision isn’t about cows or cash. Instead, it’s a verdict meant to appease a religious majority.
The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian Ocean southwest of the Bay of Bengal—about 650 miles from India. The country has many cultures, languages, and people groups.
Buddhists account for more than 70% of the country’s 21 million people. Sri Lanka’s constitution states that the government “give[s] to Buddhism the foremost place” and that the government is duty-bound “to protect and foster” the Buddha’s teachings.
The island’s democratic socialist government has now acted on that mandate. This fall, cabinet ministers overruled or amended all local slaughter laws. The cabinet’s website says “various parties” brought about the change. Officials insist an increase in cattle slaughter was making cows scarce for farmers operating traditional dairy farms.
But it’s worth noting that the country’s two largest religions—Buddhism and Hinduism—shun beef. Both religions view cattle as reborn humans. They believe kindness to cows and all animals results in “good karma,” or the positive results of positive actions.
The Bible speaks about rebirth. But it is not the changing of a human to an animal or vice versa. Instead, God promises the rebirth and eternal life only to those who believe in Jesus. (John 3:16)
Sri Lanka’s Buddhist groups have long sought a ban on cattle slaughter because of animist beliefs (the idea that animals have souls).
Independent political analyst Kusal Perera says the slaughter ban mostly targets Muslim traders. They currently have a monopoly on the beef trade, Perera says, “but they will shift to other businesses such as poultry and mutton.”
Dairy farming in Sri Lanka is mostly a cottage industry. That is, individual farmers raise cattle for side income. Such farmers will face difficulty if they cannot slaughter and sell aging, non-milk-producing cattle.
Sri Lanka’s cabinet promises to figure out a plan for animals that are unusable for farming purposes. It also claims the government will import beef and even provide it at a discounted price to people who eat red meat.
But Perera doesn’t see the plan working. “No milk industry can sustain itself without a beef industry,” Perera says. He calls the change “more a political decision than an economic one”—made to bend to the majority’s worldview about animal sanctity.