On 7 December, Hyderabad’s City Civil Court passed an interesting order with regard to the beef festival supposed to be held on 10 December in Osmania University. The Times of India, Hyderabad edition, prominently reported the contents of that order on its front page. It read, “Hearing a petition seeking a bar on the fest that has grabbed national headlines and triggered a huge controversy, G Ravinder, the fifth junior civil judge of the city civil court, ordered a status quo on campus, which from Monday morning had turned into a virtual battlefield with police rounding up students who were holding a rally in support of the event. The judge said organising such festivals on campus is unlawful and offends the provisions of the Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act as well as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.”
The junior judge of the lower court is, perhaps, unaware of matters that involve a thorough understanding of the Constitution of India. The cow slaughter question is part of Article 48 of the Constitution, which is essentially a Directive Principle that is not enforceable in a civil court. Ideally, he should have asked the petitioner to take the matter up with the High Court, but he did not do that. Instead, he hastily delivered a status quo order by, not only using the Cow Protection Law of the former Government of Andhra Pradesh, but also citing the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
However, the Hyderabad High Court upheld the civil court order on 9 December and asked the university to maintain law and order. Consequently, the state government, along with university officials, profiled and arrested several SC/ ST/OBC students.
There are two major problems with the civil court’s order: One, like Hindutva activists, the court is defining beef as only cow meat, whereas beef could also mean buffalo, bull or bullock meat. The slaughtering of these animals was never banned in Andhra Pradesh (Telangana). Two, the citing of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act by the judiciary. It is absurd to cite the Act for food-based slaughter. If the court’s logic is extended to stopping the slaughter of chicken, fish and other meat, the whole nation would be forced to become vegetarian.
The food question cannot be seen from the point of view of a small section’s sentiment but has to be seen practically; from the health point of view of the masses, particularly the poorest of the poor, who have their own food habits and resources.
The judiciary seems to have simply overlooked the fact that India suffers from a huge problem of malnutrition and most villages and tribal areas have no availability of even basic food items — such as ghee, milk, dal and vegetables — that these ‘urban vegetarians’ are talking about.
If private armies of the Sangh Parivar, backed by the ‘vegetarians’ who are in real power in Delhi, are allowed to handle cow protection laws in different states by lynching those suspected of eating beef — the mainstream public has already witnessed an example of this in Dadri in September — and killing those who trade in cattle, the state machinery will collapse.
The food culture problem has escalated not only because of the BJP, but also the politics of ‘vegetarianism’ practiced by the Congress and various regional parties after the Nehruvian era. Even though Nehru was ‘accused’ of beef-eating, liquor drinking and atheism, he did not yield to the agendas of cow protection and vegetarian nationalism. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee, while being a Brahmin, was a meat eater and liquor drinker but the Sangh Parivar did not make too much fuss about it. However, they expected that Modi, a vegetarian pracharak, would ban beef with strictness. And he has not disappointed the Sangh.
However, the judiciary cannot allow the personal moorings and the ideological or social living methods of only certain castes and communities to regiment the food habits of a diverse people. This is where the judiciary has to study and understand the sentiments of all castes and communities and not just go by the homogenised language of majority and minority religions. In India, different castes and communities have different food cultures. The students of the Osmania university have put this argument forward very effectively.