Can one person’s religious freedom interfere with another’s food preferences? And what if the freedom of one religious group is in conflict with that of another? The ban imposed in some States on the sale of meat during the Jain community’s annual fasting period of Paryushan is problematic for more than one reason, and militates against the food preferences of a majority of the people in the States concerned.
Not surprisingly, the order of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation requiring slaughter houses and meat shops to remain closed for four days during the fasting period led to public outrage, and the Bharatiya Janata Party came under attack from the Shiv Sena, its own ally in Maharashtra, over the decision. When more States began announcing similar bans, the issue became contentious and took on a communal colour. Indeed, the Shiv Sena warned the Jain community that it risked being alienated from mainstream Indian society if it continued to insist on a ban on meat. In Jammu and Kashmir, meanwhile, the High Court called for the strict implementation of a long-forgotten law that prohibits the slaughter of cows, oxen and buffaloes. This fed into the political unrest in the Muslim-majority State, with separatist leaders calling for a shutdown in protest. That the States ruled by the BJP are the ones seeking to impose the ban on meat is not lost on anyone. After Maharashtra, the States of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Haryana followed suit, raising the suspicion that the idea of a ban was meant to further the BJP’s political agenda. In Maharashtra, the government had already introduced a ban on beef; the bar on all meat varieties was therefore seen as an extension of the same Hindutva agenda.
Although such a move is nothing new, the publicity given to the ban this time, and it being extended from two days to four and eight days, resulted in much disquiet. Many sellers and consumers of meat are not opposed to a ban on the sale for a day or two; usually the days preceding and following those days would see an increase in sales and compensate for the day of the ban. But a bar for four consecutive days, and the wide publicity given to it, raised fears that the implementation would be strict and that those who did not conform might face prosecution. The stated rationale for the prohibition — which does not cover fish and eggs — is to prevent ‘slaughter’ during the period of fasting. But that did not convince the Bombay High Court, which termed the move “regressive” and “absurd” in a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai. By ordering a ban on meat for an extended period, the BJP governments have revealed a fundamentalist streak, and thus risked a backlash from some of their own core supporters.
Despite prohibitory orders, Dadri gets high-profile visitors
Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma on Friday violated ban order under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure when he visited Bishara village in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, where Mohammad Akhlaque was lynched over rumours of cow slaughter.
Mr. Sharma held a meeting with Hindu leaders in the compound of the same temple from where rumours of beef eating were announced on the loudspeaker on Monday in reaction to which a mob lynched Akhlaque. The meeting took place despite the ban on assembly of five or more persons.
During the meeting, several people complained to him about the “harassment” by the local administration. Mr. Sharma warned the local administration against “victimisation” of “innocent” members of the majority community during investigation.
Mr. Sharma is BJP MP for Gautam Buddha Nagar.
Preliminary investigation revealed that the meat in Akhlaque’s house was that of a goat.
The small sleepy village, Bishara has now become a centre of attention, with political leaders queuing up to reassure the people on safety.
Mr. Sharma, whose initial remark about the killing being an ‘accident’ had provoked criticism, met Akhlaque’s family and stressed rendering justice without “victimising innocents”.
He reiterated that Akhlaque’s killing by a mob was an “accident” and the result of a “misunderstanding” and was not a “pre-planned murder”. “It should not be given communal colour,” he said. “The culprits should be punished but innocents should not be victimised in the name of investigation.”
Earlier in the day, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi visited Akhlaque’s house. He alleged that it was a “pre-planned murder” highlighting Akhlaque’s religion.
“Those who argue that Akhlaque’s death was an accident should get their heads checked.”
Mr. Owaisi targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his “silence” over an incident which had triggered nationwide outrage.
“We expected that our Prime Minister who talks about ‘Sabka saath, Sabka vikas’ and inclusive politics would condemn Akhlaque’s killing and condole his death at least through a tweet. But it seems, it is all empty words,” he said.
He targeted the ruling Samajwadi Party’s Muslim face, Azam Khan, and said those who were “concerned should come out of their homes and visit Akhlaque’s family, rather than just giving statements while being at home.”
Six persons have been arrested in connection with the lynching of a man over alleged beef consumption at Bishada village near Dadri. A manhunt was launched to arrest the rest named accused in the case, a senior police officer said on Friday.
“Six persons have been arrested and more accused were being identified through news channels clippings,” said Senior Superintendent of Police, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Kiran S.
Police on Friday booked a case against one Anuj Kumar for posting objectionable material on the Bishara incident. Through cyber data, the police were trying to get to the accused. If it was found that he had posted the objectionable material he would be arrested, the SSP said.
The District Magistrate had issued a warning and said action would be taken against people spreading rumours in the social media about the incident.