Centre's Move to Gut Article 370 Lifts Beef Ban From J&K

Under the Ranbir Penal Code, Jammu and Kashmir used to have the strictest laws governing cattle slaughter and the possession of beef. 

Jammu: An unexpected outcome of the Central government’s decision to read down Article 370 and Article 35A of the constitution is that the 157-year-old beef ban in Jammu and Kashmir has been lifted.

Despite Muslims constituting 68.3% of Jammu and Kashmir’s population, according to 2011 Census, beef has been banned in the state Kashmir since 1862. Because of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, it had separate rules and laws under the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC). The RPC contained almost all sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), barring a few.

Under the RPC, intentionally killing or slaughtering a cow or similar animal (like ox or buffalo) was a non-bailable offence. Section 298-A of RPC states:

“Voluntarily slaughtering or Killing cow or the like animals. — Whoever voluntarily slaughters or kills any bovine animal[whether domesticated or wild], such as an ox, bull, cow or calf, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Under Section 298B, possessing the flesh of such an animal was also a cognisable, non-bailable offence and the punishment was imprisonment of one year and a fine. The section states:

“Keeping in possession flesh of killed or slaughtered animals as mentioned in section 298-A. — Whoever keeps in his possession flesh of any slaughtered animal mentioned in section 298-A above, knowing it or having reasons to believe that the flesh is of such an animal, shall be punished either imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to five hundred rupees.”

Also read: Punjab’s History Explains its Support for the Rights of Kashmiris Today

The Dogra Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir in 1862, Maharaja Ranbir Singh, enacted the RPC with this provision putting a blanket ban on beef in the entire state. In the 157 years since, no state government has tried to repeal the ban. In 2015, the Jammu and Kashmir high court disposed of a petition on the matter, saying that court cannot direct the state to frame a particular law or enact a law in particular manner.

But with Article 370 being read down and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act being brought in, the RPC stands repealed. No provision in the IPC bans the possession of cow flesh. Different states do have laws on cow slaughter, but no state law explicitly bans the consumption of beef. Jammu and Kashmir used to have the strictest laws governing cattle slaughter and the possession of beef.

On May 26, 2017, the Centre imposed a ban on the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets across India. In July 2017, the Supreme Court stayed that decision. After backlash, the Centre eased the rules in February 2018, removing references to “slaughter” from the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules, 2017.

“Without RPC, automatically the ban will be lifted. There is no provision in the IPC for it, since state legislatures have the right to make laws about cow slaughter or possession of cow flesh. The Centre will have to think about this matter,” said Abhinav Sharma, president of High Court Bar Association, Jammu.

Also read: The False Link Between Article 370 and Queer Rights

“So far nothing is clear and we are waiting till October 31 to determine what the new rules will be. We do not know even whether UT status will remain for long. Also, there is a set procedure for setting up a slaughterhouse and the municipal corporation gives permission for that. Animals are checked by a vet and then the raw material moves out from the slaughterhouse. There are no explicit rules or permission for the sale of meat,” said Jammu’s deputy mayor, Purnima Sharma.

“We deal in chicken and mutton only, and considering that beef was banned for a long time in the state, I don’t think any trader would consider selling beef. It is also a sentimental issue and we respect that,” said a meat trader in the city, Choudhary Amanat.

“From October 31, all Central laws will become applicable, so the provisions that are there for animal slaughtering or the rules that govern meat trade throughout the country or in other UTs will become applicable here as well. As such, there is no law putting a blanket ban on beef. It was only the state law here that prevented cow slaughter, so a new law will be needed,” advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat told The Wire.

Pallavi Sareen is a journalist based in Jammu and Kashmir. She is the editor-in-chief of Straight Line and can be contacted at [email protected].