Who’s afraid of eating beef in Kashmir?

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Paradox The court order enforcing the ban has actually made beef more popular in Kashmir. Photo: Faisal Khan
Paradox The court order enforcing the ban has actually made beef more popular in Kashmir. Photo: Faisal Khan

It was in 1896 that the then king of Kashmir, Pratap Singh, came out with a pamphlet banning the transport, slaughter and sale of beef in Jammu and Kashmir. But after 1947, with the establishment of the new rule, the law, more or less, existed only on paper in deference to the Muslim majority character of the state. However, a recent court order seeks to re-enforce the ban on beef in the state.

Interestingly, there exists a cultural aversion among Kashmiri Muslims against beef-eating. The taboo is more severe in Srinagar and in other urban pockets where beef-eating is generally looked down upon and its eaters are variously seen as unrefined or from the lower economic strata of the society.

However, the high court’s reiteration of the ban has caused this attitude to alter. In what can be termed as a paradox effect, soon after the court upheld the ban on 10 September, people of the state have taken to slaughtering cows in order to violate the order. Locality after locality in Srinagar pooled money to buy a cow and slaughter it in a symbolic protest against the court’s ruling.

Political and civil society groups held press conferences to condemn the ban and called upon people to sacrifice cows on the upcoming Bakra Eid. The Valley observed a shutdown on 12 September over the issue.

However, while the initial anger has died down and the situation has since lapsed into a routine, the politics over the issue has only strengthened. The National Conference (NC), the main opposition, with 15 seats in the Assembly, has decided to bring in a Bill to amend the beef law in the ensuing Assembly session on 3 October. Since the session will start after Eid, which falls on 25 September, the party has asked the government to issue an ordinance to decriminalise the mandatory religious obligation of sacrificing animals on the festival.

Independent legislator Engineer Abdul Rasheed has already moved a private member’s Bill against the law. “It should not be the domain of any government or the court to decide what people should or should not eat. Every religion, including Islam, has laid down clear guidelines for its devotees about what they should do and not do,” said Rashid in a statement to the media. “Any move directed by a political or bureaucratic establishment or the judiciary will simply mean the violation of Articles 21 and 25 of the Constitution of India which give to its citizens the right to religious freedom and other basic fundamental rights,” he added.

Incidentally, the Congress, with 12 seats in the assembly, has decided to support the Bill, should it be tabled in the Assembly. Congress leader Rigzin Jora, who hails from Ladakh, has said that the people in his region eat beef and will not abide by the ban. “Ladakhi’s are beefeaters and nobody can decide what they should eat,” said Rigzin Jora. Last year in Assembly polls, Congress had swept the four seats in Ladakh.

All this has led to the brewing of an interesting situation. With major opposition parties united in bringing in a new legislation, what will the PDP-BJP coalition do with its internal antagonism over the issue: While PDP has opposed the beef ban, the BJP has supported it and sought its strict implementation across the state.

BJP state vice president and MLC Ramesh Arora’s remarks, on the protests that the court order sparked, provide a clear pictures of his party’s stand, “Law enforcing authorities should not take a lenient view of such elements who violate the court directions and indulge in provoking and hurting sentiments by their acts,” he said.

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