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Subordinating human beings to the prejudices of our society

columns Updated: Sep 19, 2015 22:56 IST
Karan Thapar
Karan Thapar
Hindustan Times
Indian meat bans

Former Justice Markandey Katju’s 2008 judgement has paved the way for government-sanctioned meat bans(HT Photo)

I don’t mean to offend but if I was a vegetarian I’m pretty sure Indian politicians would force me to become a carnivore! Not out of desire but very possibly out of principle. This would be my way of asserting my right to eat what I want, when I want and in the quantity that I can manage. In other words, it would be my way of enforcing my right to choose.

Quite frankly, our politicians don’t understand and, therefore, don’t respect the right to choose. They feel they can decide for us. No doubt they claim to do so for the greater good of all but they end up disrespecting the sovereignty of individuals — and for me that’s sacrosanct — without achieving anything credible or valuable for the amorphous majority they insist they’re acting on behalf of.

All they do is to enforce their own whims and fancies under the thin but specious disguise of ethics and morality. Indeed, think about it: this is nothing short of moral dictatorship even if we don’t call it by that term.

Consider three questions: first, how does my eating meat on a Jain holy day affect, leave aside offend, the Jain community when they know I’m free to eat meat on every other day of the year and do so with delight if not, occasionally, greed?

Second, would you extend the argument enforcing vegetarianism on Jain holy days to a requirement for all non-Muslims to fast on Ramzan? And third, if the fact you don’t approve of what I choose to do gives you the right to stop me or obliges me to desist aren’t you being intolerant and authoritarian?

On the question of meat eating — and I dare say this would extend to drinking and adult sexual intercourse — our politicians are rarely tolerant, often illiberal and probably authoritarian.

What has, however, truly surprised me is the discovery the Supreme Court is equally guilty. Justice Markandey Katju’s judgement of 2008 concluded that it’s permissible to enforce vegetarianism on a meat-eating population for a reasonable period.

He concluded that a nine-day meat ban in Gujarat during Paryushan is a reasonable restriction. As he put it: “Non-vegetarians can surely remain vegetarian for nine days in a year out of respect for the Jain festival.”

Sorry, I disagree. And do so profoundly. The good Judge is simply wrong. In fact, he’s actually confused. If it’s wrong to impose restrictions on what an individual can eat then the length of time for which that restriction is imposed is not at all a consideration.

Whether it’s for an hour, a day, nine days or nine years it’s equally wrong. Imposing a restraint for only a small and allegedly reasonable period doesn’t somehow make it acceptable.

Paradoxically, the good but confused Justice Katju actually agrees with me. Because elsewhere in his judgement, which concludes that a nine-day meat ban is reasonable and constitutional, he writes: “what one eats is one’s personal affair and it’s a part of his right to privacy which is included in Article 21 of our Constitution.” Which is why you can’t place a restraint, leave aside a ban, on it.

I’m afraid Justice Katju’s logic is no different to the addled arguments of our politicians seeking to justify the indefensible on the grounds it’s for the greater good of the majority. In both cases the rights of individuals are ignored. Which means we’ve subordinated human beings to the prejudices of society.

(The views expressed are personal)