Apart from its scenic and strategic geography and Article 370, Kashmir, till 1990, also had the unique distinction of cultural tolerance. Much against the widespread impression that was sought to be created when independent legislator Engineer Rashid hosted a beef party to defy the ban and prohibition, the fact is that most Kashmiri Muslims do not eat beef.
No wonder Rashid reportedly served mutton at his ‘beef party’, apparently knowing well that not many people would eat beef, which would have defeated his purpose of making a religio-political statement.
Having lived in Kashmir for 19 years, until being forced out during the onset of the Islamic insurgency in 1990, I can say that Kashmiri Muslims, despite being in an overwhelming majority, had due respect for the minority sentiments (in Kashmir, as also in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Muslims are in a majority).
Beef never made it to the routine course. It was consumed, that too rarely, during marriages or Id-ul-Azha. Only the marginalised and underprivileged sections of society would slaughter a calf or two on occasions as they could not afford either sheep or lamb.
In our predominantly Muslim neighbourhood when someone would slaughter a calf, he would do it in a clandestine manner, more out of respect for our sentiments than for fear of the law.
During Muslim marriages, there would be a separate kitchen for the Hindu guests managed by Hindu cooks. And the same practice was followed in Hindu marriages, sometimes, even for a single guest.
Food habits are driven more by culture than religion. This is the reason why not many Kashmiri Muslims eat beef and not many Kashmiri Hindus eat pork, as it was never a part of their culture.
Even now, when Kashmiri society is considered to have been more radicalised, people strongly resist eating beef.
One of my Kashmiri Muslim friends recently refused to eat beef served by a Hindu secularist as he had never eaten beef in his life. The same friend was warned by his mother against eating or bringing beef at home.
Our daily lives are determined more by culture and less by religion. But the moment these roles are reversed and religion is imposed as culture, the entire social edifice threatens to collapse.
Culture, unlike religion, is a binding force, and the culture of tolerance is the strongest at that. This is what Kashmir taught me and it is something I will always remember with nostalgia.
(Vimal Sumbly is a former journalist based in Punjab. The views expressed are personal)