Srinagar: After a letter by the Jammu and Kashmir administration, asking authorities to implement a ban on the slaughter of bovine animals and camels in the Union Territory triggered a political row head of Eid-ul-Azha, an official of the animal husbandry department has said that it was a mere “advisory and not an order” and that no ban has been imposed.
Islamic tenets call for the sacrifice of animals for Muslims who can afford to do so for this festival and the order to ban slaughter of bovines was seen by mainstream parties of J&K, as well as the Hurriyat, as an infringement of the rights of people to practice their religion.
The order was issued by the Jammu and Kashmir administration ( run directly by New Delhi) in a letter dated July 15, 2021, which has since been circulating on social media.
The communication asked senior officials in civil and police administration of Jammu and Kashmir to “take all preventive measures” for the “implementation of the animal welfare laws, to stop illegal killing of animals and to take stringent action against the offenders.”
The administration’s letter refers to another communication (9-2/2019-20/PCA) sent to the J&K administration by the Animal Welfare Board of India which is under the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying of the Union government.
The second letter asked the J&K administration to “strictly implement the Animal Welfare Laws viz. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960; Transport of Animal Welfare Rules, 1978; Transport of Animals (Amendment) Rules, 2001; Slaughter House Rules, 2001; Municipal Laws & Food Safety & Standards Authority of India directions for slaughtering of animals (under which camels cannot be slaughtered) during the festival (of Eid).”
However, speaking with local reporters, the Principal Secretary of J&K’s Animal and Sheep Husbandry department, Navin Kumar Choudhary, on Friday, June 16, said that the letter has been “misunderstood and misquoted.”
“The letter only asked the enforcement agencies to comply with the rules of the Animal Welfare Board. No ban has been imposed on sacrificing of bovine animals. It is just an advisory, not an order,” he said.
Public pressure is always important. Silence and self-censorship—misconstrued as approval to the abnormal. After a backlash, the administration is now saying that the contents of the letter with regards to ban on the animal sacrifice were “misconstrued.” Never forget Faiz’s poems
— Gowhar Geelani (@GowharGeelani) July 16, 2021
“Why are Muslims being restricted by the government from performing their religious obligations?” the Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulema (MMU) had asked in a statement shortly after news of the original direction had spread.
The MMU is headed by moderate Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who has been incarcerated at his Srinagar residence since the reading down of Article 370 in 2019.
The statement noted that the order to ban bovine animals “directly infringes upon religious freedom and personal law” of people of J&K.
The National Conference, which is headed by Lok Sabha MP and former Union minister Dr Farooq Abdullah, said the ban on sacrifice of bovine animals is an “attempt to prevent Muslims from discharging their religious duties.”
“Those who talk about constitution and upholding the rule of law should explain to us which law prevents Muslims from performing their religious obligations. The government must immediately withdraw the order so that the majority community of J&K can celebrate the upcoming festivities,” NC leader and spokesperson, Imran Nabi Dar said.
“Banning of sacrifice of animals (cow, calf and camel) on Eid-ul-Azha is a message that neither sentiments nor religious freedoms of Muslim community in Jammu and Kashmir matter,” political commentator and journalist Gowhar Geelani tweeted.
Banning of sacrifice of animals (cow, calf & camel) on Eid-ul-Azha is a message that neither sentiments nor religious freedoms of Muslim community in Jammu and Kashmir matter. What matters is the dictatorial diktat of the powerful bureaucrats, de facto MLAs, of a particular faith
— Gowhar Geelani (@GowharGeelani) July 16, 2021
‘Gau raksha attacks’
The ban on beef and bovine animals is a sensitive issue in Jammu and Kashmir. In the past, Muslim Gujjars and Bakerwals who are involved in the livestock business have been attacked, by suspected rightwing Hindutva activists.
These attacks have gone up significantly since the BJP came to power for the second time in 2019 and scrapped J&K’s special status. According to official sources, at least four such attacks have been reported from the UT, most of them from Jammu region this year.
In one such attack, 24-year-old Aijaz Dar who was returning home to Rajouri on June 22 was lynched. Locals had blamed ‘cow vigilantes’ for the murder of Aijaz who was the only earning member of his family.
A majority of animals sacrificed on the occasion of Eid-ul-Azha in J&K are sheep and goats. However, bovines are half the price of the former and are sacrificed mostly by the poor.
In some areas of Kashmir, neighbours pool in money to buy a bovine animal which has the religious sanction to be offered as sacrifice by seven people. On the other hand, the sacrifice of a sheep or goat is considered as sacrifice against just one individual.
Last year in July, a petition was filed in the J&K high court seeking a re-enactment of the law banning the slaughter of cow and other bovine animals.
The petition by a little known NGO called Save Animals Value Environment, sought court directions to the Union government and J&K administration to enact the beef ban law.
“The cows are also intrinsically linked to the religious and cultural sentiments of the minority Hindu population in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir, and such slaughter of a revered living creature may result in the distortion of peace, tranquility and communal harmony in the Union Territory,” the petition said.
Older law hardly implemented
An earlier law banning the slaughter of bovines in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was repealed by the Jammu and Kashmir Re-Organisation Act, 2019.
But even before 2019, ban on slaughter was ever really implemented on the ground, particularly in Kashmir where many Muslims, who are in a majority, consume beef regularly due to its high nutritional value.
Despite the political uncertainty since the reading down of Article 370, beef still continues to be sold in open markets across Kashmir and in the Muslim majority areas of Jammu region.
Political observers believe that the new order too is unlikely to be implemented on ground in Kashmir but will certainly be used to whip up passions with the elections in Uttar Pradesh around the corner.
However, it is noteworthy that the promulgation of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2021, in January this year empowered the Union government to reduce the representation of locals in the UT’s higher bureaucracy and police administration.
Instead of 50:50 ratio for IAS and Kashmir Administrative Service officers, the ordinance changed the rule to 67:33, reducing the number of key administrative posts available in promotion quota for KAS officers.
This could well dictate how the ban is implemented.
Habeel Iqbal, a lawyer based in south Kashmir, said the order to ban the sacrifice of bovine animals violates the Section 28 of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act.
He said the PCA act notes that “nothing contained in this Act shall render it an offence to kill any animal in a manner required by the religion of any community.”
“Animals sacrificed on the occasion of Eid are treated in the most humanely possible way and given love, respect and care. Law does not permit blanket ban on killing of animals,” he tweeted.