A Welcome Move

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The state government has sacked the Additional Advocate General Vishal Sharma and Deputy Advocate General Parimoksh Seth who were associated with the controversial petition banning sale of beef in J&K. Though the decision should have been taken much earlier, the belated government action has hardly detracted from its profound significance. While Vishal represented the government during the hearing of beef ban issue in the High Court this month, Parimoksh was a petitioner in the case.  And both have been instrumental in putting the government in a situation where it has been confronted with the destabilizing fallout of more than a hundred year old law.

It was in response to the petition by Parimoksh that the High Court ruled that the “strict action shall be taken in accordance with law” against those who slaughter, sell or eat beef.  The law against the practice was made in 1896 when the then Maharaja of Kashmir in the Ishtihar (advertisement) No 218, sanctioned by the State Council Resolution, banned transport, slaughter and even selling  of the beef in the state. Cows, according to the law are also legally protected from being slaughtered. There can similarly be granted no permission to run a beef shop. The law was further reinforced vide notification no 119 of 1950 and punishable under section 188 of Ranbhir Penal Code.

Though the law was generally observed in breach – and which is what should have been the case in a Muslim majority state – the High Court order reinforced it and gave it a new life.  Adding to the troubling context of the High Court ruling was the recent prohibitions against the beef and mutton consumption in Maharashtra, making people in Valley see the ban as part of a larger pattern in India and abetted by the central government. The order was understood as the deliberate use of the state power to impose a majoritarian cultural ethic on the country. This not only denies the minorities their own freedom of choice and the religion guaranteed by the constitution of India but also further squeezes their place within the country.

It is in this background that the law ministry’s decision to terminate the lawyers responsible for resurrecting the beef ban in the state assumes its significance. The government move came after weeks of hesitation and indecision, leading people to attribute it to PDP’s unwillingness to go against its coalition partner BJP which supports the ban. The protracted indecision also seemed to fit into a familiar pattern whereby the Valley-based political parties are seen chary about aggressively fighting for the rights and the legitimate aspirations of their core constituency, lest they lose the goodwill of New Delhi.

One aspect of Kashmir that doesn’t get adequate attention in the swirling discourse about the political conflict in the state is the deep sense of political disempowerment in Kashmir. One way of looking at it is that we have become a majority community with a minority syndrome.  There is also the perception that Kashmiris are not of an equivalent political weight when compared to Jammu province, more so with rise to power of BJP at the centre. Our politicians are seen easily inclined to kowtow to the centre and make the worst compromises to stay in power. This is here that the decision to sack the lawyers deeply resonates with people. For it shows an elected government do what people would want it to do. But the stronger and more relevant test for the state government will be in the near future: people would be curious to see how PDP would respond to the anti-beef ban bill being moved in the upcoming Assembly session by the opposition National Conference. If the three parties – PDP, NC, Congress – stand their ground, nothing can stop the bill from passed. And why shouldn’t it be so. A predominant majority in the state wants that the bill should be passed. And in a normal democratic set up, it is their will

which should carry the day – more so, when it concerns the larger principle of an individual’s right to eat what he or she wants to.

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