The beef ban issue may have unleashed the demons of intolerance in the country but in Jammu and Kashmir, the conflict has taken a more complex form: a battle of regional one-upmanship between Muslim majority Kashmir and Hindu majority Jammu. An undercurrent of unease is palpable in the PDP-BJP alliance which was expected to bridge the differences between the two regions. It has triggered a series of provocative incidents, protests and attacks culminating in the death of truck conductor Zahid Ahmed on 18 October. The death has since triggered its own political fallout, tipping the Valley into a fresh turmoil and resulting in the face-blackening of the legislator Engineer Rashid at a press conference in New Delhi.
Again, in Kashmir, the beef ban issue did not come from Maharashtra and Haryana, where it was successively passed in March. Instead, it was indigenously triggered. On 10 September, the J&K High Court upheld a 150-year old law on beef ban in the state in response to a petition filed, ironically, by government lawyer Parimoksh Seth, son of BJP leader Onkar Seth.
Though Parimoksh had filed the petition before he was appointed deputy advocate general early this year, he refused to withdraw the petition on government direction that would have rendered the court order void. He, along with another government lawyer, the additional Advocate General Vishal Sharma, son of J&K VHP president Leela Karan Sharma, was later sacked by the government. In Sharma’s case, it was for poorly defending the case in the court and not informing the government about the proceedings for it to formulate a more cogent response. Parimoksh has since been appointed as the BCCI counsel for the state.
Following the high court order, another petition was filed before the court seeking to strike down the Constitutional provisions criminalising bovine slaughter in the state. In response, the court issued notice to the government giving it a week’s time to file a response.
Caught up in the still unfolding political maelstrom, the PDP—BJP coalition tried to fend off the issue by petitioning the Supreme Court about conflicting judgements of the high court: In one case, the high court had ruled in favour of the strict enforcement of the beef ban and in another petition which challenged this order, the high court had issued notice to the government to explain its position.
The ruling coalition used the SC route to forestall the tabling of the five anti-beef ban Bills in the Assembly that were moved by the opposition National Conference, Communist leader MY Tarigami and the legislator Engineer Rashid. As if on cue, a day before the bills had to come up for vote in a legislature where they enjoyed the sufficient support for them to pass, the SC directed the J&K chief justice to constitute a three-judge bench to resolve the contradictions arising from the orders passed by the high court.
Following this, the government refused to take up bills in the Assembly, implicitly on the grounds that the matter was sub judice — although that should have by no means prevented it from enacting a new pro-beef law.
But in its decision on 16 October, the full bench of High Court threw the ball back into the government’s court.
“The State of Jammu and Kashmir shall have to consider reviewing of existing laws (on beef ban in J&K) and take policy decision within the framework of Constitution, and ensure that no inter-religious conflict takes place amongst the people of the State,” ruled the full bench comprising Justices Muzaffar Hussain Attar, Ali Mohammad Magrey and Tashi Rabstan.