Treating People As Cattle

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THE SUSPENSION of internet for more than two days has generated a widespread anger in the state.  The essential service was shutdown without the people being informed in advance about the move. No clarifications were deemed necessary to be issued. Nor was any attempt made to take people into confidence. And as situation existed in the state, there hardly seemed the need for the termination of internet. For all the resentment against the ban on beef, there was peace in the state. The initial anger had died down. If the government had not snapped the internet, the people would have still performed the Qurbani, including that of cows,  but more in the nature of fulfilling their religious obligation than in defiance of the ban.

But the suspension of the internet has reframed the debate in the most troubling terms possible. To put the issue in perspective, it is necessary to go back to the original event of the High Court order to ban beef in the state.  Though a reiteration of a 150 year old ban, which was largely followed in breach in the state, the court order went against the culinary preferences of a majority of the population in the state. This naturally made people angry. There are legitimate reasons for this anger. One, for the majority of the population of the state, which includes the entire population of Kashmir Valley and Ladakh, eating beef is sanctioned by the religion. Second, the ban on beef is against the universal principle of the freedom of choice and religion. Now what is an elected government supposed to do under the circumstances? Take measures to ensure that an illegitimate ban is revoked. It doesn’t do that. BJP, one of the coalition partners which represents Jammu in the government would have none of it. And another partner with a predominant support base in Valley gives the impression it has no option but to play along.  

What the coalition does instead?  Ensure the ban on beef becomes a norm in the state. Ensure even if the people sacrifice cow as a matter of their religious and constitutional right, it is covered up through the suspension of the means of mass communication.  Lest the community feels hurt. And which at one level is right, No community should hurt the religious sentiment of the other community.  But what about a situation where both communities have a genuine cause for feeling hurt.  If one community is troubled by the  cow slaughter, other community is pained by officially sanctioned bar on eating beef. Now how do you negotiate the dilemma? Not by using all out state power to enforce the cultural code of one community only. But to ensure  that there is space and freedom both to pursue their respective way of life.   

But this is hardly the case in J&K, India’s only Muslim majority state and where beef ban is not only a provocative act but unnatural  also.  What is more, the government is working overtime to discipline the beef eaters. This kind of approach from an elected state government is abnormal: how can you go against the wishes of the majority of the population and still claim to represent them. But then this is the democracy of J&K where the parties who go against the aspirations of the majority of voters rule the state.  

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