The Jammu and Kashmir high court ordered state police on Thursday to ensure strict implementation of a colonial-era law banning the sale of beef after a petitioner argued the slaughter of bovine animals hurt the sentiments of some communities.
The ruling comes in a year when several states have banned beef trade and cow slaughter, stoking an ever-swirling debate with several right-wing organisations supporting these moves while many minority groups and activists have termed such decisions a blow to personal freedom and India’s secular fabric.
Experts say the high court order is a reiteration of a section of the 1932 Ranbir Penal Code that is applicable in J&K, which says slaughter of cows and “like animals” is punishable with up to 10 years of imprisonment as well as a financial penalty.
A division bench of Justice Dhiraj Singh Thakur and Justice Janak Raj Kotwal instructed the director general of police to order top police officials of all districts and police stations to ensure there is no sale of beef in the state and stringent action is taken against violators.
The court was hearing advocate Parimoksh Seth’s public interest litigation (PIL) that said despite the Ranbir Penal Code provisions, bovine slaughter was rampant in the state. Advocate Sunil Sethi, spokesperson of the BJP's state unit, represented the petitioner who is a member of the party’s youth wing.
Soon after the high court order some J&K separatist groups, including Yasin Malik’s Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, called for a shutdown in the Valley on Saturday to protest the ban.
“Although consumption of beef is less in Kashmir, there are some areas where it’s consumed daily. So I see no reason why this practice should not continue,” said moderate Hurriyat leader and the Valley’s head cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. “It’s nothing but a political gimmick.”
India is the world’s second-largest beef exporter after Brazil, but the BJP and its affiliates have been pushing for a nationwide ban on cow slaughter, as the animal is considered holy by many Hindus.
Home minister Rajnath Singh called for a countrywide prohibition on beef in March.
“How can we accept that cows should be slaughtered in this country? We will do our best to put a ban on this, and we will do whatever it takes to build consensus,” he said.
The same month, Maharashtra extended a ban on the slaughter of cows to bulls and bullocks while Haryana made cow slaughter and beef sale non-bailable offences soon after. Jharkhand and Rajasthan are reportedly considering similar legislation. All these states have BJP-led governments.
The court’s order comes days after some civic bodies in Maharashtra banned the sale of meat during the Jain fasting period of Paryushan, triggering a debate on religious sentiments and individual freedom.
Legal experts in Kashmir said the ban was imposed stringently in the state from 1932 to 1947, but its effect waned afterwards.
“The majority community in the state has never opposed the ban due to a sense of respect for Hindus. This despite the fact that it’s an intrusion on a person’s fundamental right,” said senior lawyer GN Shaheen.
The BJP, which rules the state in coalition with the PDP, welcomed the court’s decision saying the party had always opposed the killing of bovine animals like cows and was vigorously pursuing the ban.
“The ban on sale of beef is a worthy decision that would give a strong message against those forces which had been polluting the religious belief of particular community,” said state legislator Ashok Khajuria, arguing that the cow was India’s building force.
The PDP clarified that the ban was not similar to the ones invoked in Maharashtra and other parts of the country.
“We have inherited the ban from the Constitution of the state. It’s not new. The only thing is considering the sentiments of the majority of people living in Kashmir, it wasn't enforced,” said Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra, political adviser to chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
The Congress called the issue “sensitive”, warning that the communal wedge in the state was deepening because of the ruling parties pursuing opportunistic agendas.
“The government should take a call on this situation as it is a sensitive issue. It is a high court decision and should be respected above all,” said MLC Ravinder Sharma. The BJP-PDP coalition government is busy raising uncalled for controversies, as the two parties have different approaches on various issues.”
In Maharashtra, the BJP-led government passed the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act in March, banning the slaughter, sale and import of beef, a move which has been challenged in court. According to the law, slaughter and sale of beef as well as the possession and consumption of beef is a criminal offence.
Read:Four-day meat ban in Mumbai during Jain fasting period