The state High Court ruling upholding a 1932 ban on beef has Kashmiris fuming – and is bringing together its many political and religious factions in a rare show of solidarity
Srinagar: When on September 9 the Jammu & Kashmir High Court issued a ruling banning consumption of beef in the state, the Valley erupted against the decision. The issue, which is now threatening to snowball into a full-scale confrontation, has already put the Peoples Democratic Party-led state government in a precarious position.
The court ruling came in response to a petition filed by Parimkosh Seth, lawyer and member of BJP’s National Executive Wing – who has since been appointed the state’s Deputy Advocate General – seeking the implementation of an existing ban on beef that dates back to 1932.
The division bench consisting of Justice Dhiraj Singh Thakur and Justice Janak Raj Kotwal said in its order that “The government should strictly implement the existing order banning sale of beef in the state… strict action shall be taken in accordance with law against those who indulge in this activity”.
The bench also directed the Director General of Police to ensure strict compliance of the order by issuing appropriate directions to senior superintendents (SSPs) and station house officers (SHOs) across the state.
Kashmir raises questions
However, coming as it does in the wake of bans on beef and other meat in several states including Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, most Kashmiris connect the ruling to what they believe is a “larger design” of the BJP-led Central government to implement its Hindutva agenda. “This (ban) is a direct interference our religious affairs. The court ruling is nothing but a part of the larger Hindutva project,” says Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
The problems for the state administration is compounded by the fact that it is bringing together separatists, trade bodies and politico-religious organisations under one banner.
Four days after the court pronounced the verdict, it has become the biggest topic of conversation on the Kashmir street and people are interpreting it in different ways. “Tomorrow they will ask us to stop eating mutton. There’s no way we’re going to accept this ban. They can’t dictate dietary habits to Muslims,” says Nasir Hussain, a student at SP Degree College at Lal Chowk. Hussain claims that he had little liking for beef till now, but he opposes the ruling for other reasons. “I will eat beef now to assert my religion and my identity. We will slaughter a cow on Eid.”
The Valley’s largest socio-political organisation, Jamaat-e-Islami too has declared the ban “totally unacceptable”. Newly elected chief of Jamaat, GM Bhat asks, “Don’t we even have the right to have halal food now? Even if J&K assembly implements the beef ban and the Indian Parliament supports it, it won’t be acceptable in Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir”.
The court ruling follows a state government decision on July 21 this year banning export of bovine animals from BJP’s stronghold of Jammu city, which had drawn sharp criticism from separatist groups and opposition.
“There is a pattern to it. These things aren’t happening in isolation or in a vacuum,” said Muzaffar Hussain, a political science student at Kashmir University.
In its executive committee meeting on Thursday, the High Court Bar Association decided to challenge the ban. “The Bar will challenge section 298A and section 298B of Ranbir Penal Code (RPC), which bans cow slaughter. It is unconstitutional,” a spokesman said.
Cow slaughter in J&K was banned during the Maharaja’s time in 1932 according to a ruling documented under Section 298-A and 298-B of the RPC. The RPC was originally enacted by the then Dogra ruler of the state in 1862, the same year the IPC came into force in India.
In her acclaimed book Kashmir: Hindu Rulers Muslim Subjects, the historian Mridu Rai writes about the ban on cow slaughter imposed by Dogra rulers: “It was deemed by non-Muslim rulers as critical to their own dharma, and so also to their sovereignty relying on its protection… So it is said Maharaja Ranbir Singh slit a woman’s tongue for beating a cow which had torn some clothes she had hung out to dry. In Gulab Singh’s time, cow slaughter was punishable with life imprisonment.”
The Qazi Nisar moment
The memories of Dogra rule in Kashmir were revived in 1986, when Governor Jagmohan imposed a ban on consumption of meat based on the demand of some Hindu extremist groups. At the time, Qazi Nisar, an unknown cleric from Anantnag slaughtered two sheep to defy the order.
His defiance brought Nisar into the limelight and a year later he became one of the main architects of the Muslim United Front – the political alliance which contested the 1987 Assembly polls but lost due – it is widely believed and also unofficially acknowledged – to rigging. Now, Nisar’s son Qazi Yasir, the incumbent Mirwaiz of south Kashmir, has taken up the fight against the beef ban.
After he had announced that he planned a repeat of the 1986 moment, Yasir was arrested by the police in a late night raid on Thursday. A defiant Yasir asks, “Has India forgotten that moment? Nobody can dictate what we should eat and what we shouldn’t,” said.
The mood in Kashmir now is such that it’s as if the state has been taken back to 1986, the ruling having given an opportunity to separatists to galvanise peoples’ support. On Saturday, the entire Valley shut down in protest against the court verdict and people in some districts, including volunteers of separatist parties, slaughtered bovine animals to defy it. The Masarat Alam-led Muslim League has already asked people to sacrifice cows during Eid-ul-Zuha next week.
PDP’s catch-22 situation
The disclosure that Parimkosh Seth, the State’s Deputy Advocate General, is the the petitioner in the case, has left the PDP-BJP coalition government red-faced. Though Seth said he would withdraw his name from the PIL, the controversy over the ban is only expected to grow in coming days.
Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde told The Wire that while the J&K High Court could not be faulted for upholding a law which exists, the state Assembly was well within its rights to amend the law or rescind it, if it so desires. “The issue is would the PDP and BJP be on the same page. Or else, the move can be pushed forth by the PDP with opposition support in the State Assembly.”
The opposition National Conference and independent legislator Engineer Abdul Rashid have already offered their support to the ruling PDP for scrapping Article 298 A&B of the RPC which bans the slaughtering of bovine animals and sale of beef. “We are ready to support any legislation for scrapping Article 298 A&B of the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC),” said NC’s senior lawmaker Muhammad Akbar Lone.
The Jammu-based BJP, on its part, has already welcomed the High Court ruling. Party spokesman Khalid Jehangir welcomed the ban saying anything being done to “restore the cultural integrity” of the state should be welcomed. “The law should be respected by one and all,” he said.
“We should follow the High Court decision. It is in the interest of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” said BJP’s senior leader and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Kavinder Gupta.
It now remains to be seen how PDP will react to the offer from the opposition to repeal the law, but the going won’t be so smooth for the party since it had always been being accused of selling out to the BJP for power.
A senior PDP leader and cabinet minister said the government was studying the “court verdict”. Requesting anonymity, he further ventures, “But the trouble is, how can you implement something which is non-implementable?”
With inputs from Gaurav Bhatnagar in New Delhi