Bovine plunge into Kashmir Cauldron

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KO Analysis

The Jammu and Kashmir high court has ordered the state government to strictly implement an existing order which bans the sale of beef in the state after hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against cow slaughter.  The PIL stated that slaughtering and sale of bovine animals is rampant in some parts of the state which severely affected religious sentiments of a section of the society. It further stated that the practice continues despite the fact of the provisions of Ranbir Penal Code (RPC).

Under section 298A of the RPC, intentionally killing or slaughtering a cow or like animal (including ox and buffalo) is a cognizable, non-bailable offence punishable with 10 years imprisonment and fine. Its section 298B says possessing the flesh such an animal is a cognizable, non-bailable offence punishable with imprisonment of one year and a fine. The RPC was enacted in 1862 by the then Dogra king of the state while the IPC also came into force in India the same year.

The court ruling and injunction is significant and perhaps even land mark in many senses. First, it is directed at a state and society that is overwhelmingly Muslim in nature and character. (Muslims, it may be pointed out do not have any issues eating beef but Hindu’s do). Second, the injunction is built around and strengthened by a legal peg dating back to the autocratic rule of the Maharajah who ruled Kashmir then.  Third,  the injunction contradicts the nature and thrust of  the liberal state that India claims to be. The cardinal principle of a liberal state is neutrality between different groups and religions with tolerance and non interference as its central virtue.

So the beef ban has both broader and particular implications. In terms of Kashmir, the beef ban may be seen by some as an indication of the ‘Hinduizatiion’ of the Indian state and abrogating the Idea of India that Kashmir acceded to. This idea pertains to tolerance, liberalism and secularism. Kashmiri Muslims are likely to feel that the imposition of preferences of the majority community onto Kashmir reflects the changing nature of India and that Kashmiris are arrayed and up against an increasingly hostile ‘Hindu’ India. This will have consequences on the make up of the current ruling dispensation in Kashmir: the BJP- PDP coalition government. The PDP will feel the heat and fallout of the beef ban as it will increasingly be seen as a either a lackey or a willing tool in the overall designs of the BJP on Kashmir.

Broadly speaking, the beef ban contradicts the essence of the liberal state wherein non interference by the state and the various apparatii of the state have to not only maintain neutrality between competing notions of the ‘good life’ and group differences and preferences. The principle of non interference is key here. Some may object here and state that it is the High Court that has made the injunction in response to a PIL. But , for popular perception holds that the PIL in contention here is motivated piece of litigation. In this sense is the PIL is not in broader public interest but is clearly for a certain community’s interest.

The state government’s omissions and commissions regarding the beef ban are also noteworthy. If a dispassionate analysis of the court ruling is carried out, the court’s case and the ruling thereof is built around a legal peg (howsoever flawed and irrelevant it may be). The obvious inference that can be drawn here is that the state either failed to muster defense for a widespread practice here arguing or chose to let the ruling to come to pass. Admittedly speculative, this analysis however lends itself to the hypothesis that the state may want an adverse reaction amongst people in order to distract attention from its broader failures.

This is ominous and alarming because it sets a precedent. What if Muslims tomorrow argue along the same lines and assert that they find certain practices of the majority community objectionable? There will be a cacophony of claims and counter claims rendering asunder the tenuous social peace that obtains leading to overt intergroup conflict and even violence. Going by the reactions to the ban, both the PIL and the court ruling appear to be ill conceived and ill thought. The casualties are likely to be social peace and an increasing sense of vulnerability and a feeling of weakness among the majority community in the state

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