Meat Ban- Constitutional and Other Queries
Why in News
The ban imposed in some States on the sale of meat during the Jain community’s annual fasting period of Paryushan(festival of self purification) is problematic for more than one reason, and militates against the food preferences of a majority of the people in the States concerned.
- Can one person’s religious freedom interfere with another’s food preferences?
- And what if the freedom of one religious group is in conflict with that of another?
- Many sellers and consumers of meat are not opposed to a ban on the sale for a day or two; usually the days preceding and following those days would see an increase in sales and compensate for the day of the ban.
- But a bar for four consecutive days, and the wide publicity given to it, raised fears that the implementation would be strict and that those who did not conform might face prosecution.
According to some lawyers,
The stated rationale for the prohibition — which does not cover fish and eggs — is to prevent ‘slaughter’ during the period of fasting. But that did not convince the Bombay High Court, which termed the move “regressive” and “absurd” in a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai.
Key Constitutional Question
- Whether a short-duration ban can be accepted as “reasonable restriction” on the citizen’s fundamental rights?
- Don’t short-duration bans, even if it is for two days, equally violate fundamental rights like the right to eat food of one’s choice, the right to be left alone and the right to practice one’s trade and business?
- Rights cannot be abridged even if it is for nine days or 48 hours. Curtailing my freedom to purchase even for 48 hours on the basis of a skewed administrative order is definitely an unreasonable restriction
The Supreme Court has for long struggled to strike a balance on meat bans, both long- and short-duration ones. It has over the decades given conflicting views from calling beef a “poor man’s protein food” and upholding the ban on meat, fish and eggs in Rishikesh on the grounds that a majority come there for “prayer and purification” to a 2008 judgment advising one not to be “over-touchy” about a nine-day meat ban in Gujarat during the Paryushan penance of the Jain community.
In the 2008 judgment in Hinsa Virodhak Sangh versus Mirzapur Moti Kuresh Jamat and Others, the Supreme Court concluded that the nine-day meat ban in Gujarat during Paryushan was a reasonable restriction.
It was this judgment the Maharashtra government banked on to justify its meat ban before the Bombay High Court on Friday.
The judgment reasoned that the ban in Gujarat was not for a “considerable period” and “non-vegetarians can surely remain vegetarians for nine days in a year out of respect for the Jain festival”.
On the other hand, the judgment said the Supreme Court would have surely declared the meat ban an “excessive restriction” and struck it down had it been ordered by the Gujarat government for a considerable period and not just nine days.
It said a long-duration ban would have affected the livelihood of a large number of workmen in butcher shops and “non-vegetarians cannot be compelled to become vegetarians” for a considerable period of time.
But the judgment does not define
- what it means by “considerable period of time”.
- It does not explain how long a ban should go on for the court to declare it unconstitutional.
- Again, the judgment does not say how many days a ban can survive without being an insult to the Constitution.
Incidentally, the same judgment observed in one of its paragraphs that “what one eats is one’s personal affair and it is a part of his right to privacy which is included in Article 21 of our Constitution”.
- It has been going on for forty years and it has been made a issue due to politics.
- Don’t we give up our personal liberties on 3 national holidays? They are dry days and we can’t buy liquor. Technically that is also ban, and that is nationwide. This meat ban is not nationwide.
- Don’t we give up our personal liberties when we hear loudazaan five times a day from a local mosque or loud music from a local pandal during various pujas?
- Remember, personal liberty is also about choosing what you are exposed to.
- Nearly all leading restaurants and meat shops offer onlyhalaal meat in order to respect Muslim sentiments. Will it not be unreasonable if Hindus start demanding jhatka meat just to insist on personal choice and liberty? Hindus don’t insist on that because they have “adjusted” to accommodate fellow Indians.
- We all have the right to evolve but this evolution and growing up should not be selective.
- violate fundamental liberties
- erode the secular character of the state
- harm the causes of vegetarianism and non-violence they are ostensibly designed to encourage.
- display deep disrespect for religion.
- We cite examples of Akbar or princely states observing various kinds of meat bans around festivals, or even prohibitions on beef. These were often treated as gestures to promote communal harmony. But it is a mark of just how confused we are about modern constitutional politics that we see pre-modern states as defining our constitutional and legal horizons. Many of these states could be benevolent, but they were embedded in structures that did not recognise individual liberty and rights in the modern sense.
Toleration or respect was dependent upon the benevolence of the ruler, not claimed as a matter of individual right. The state needed toleration because it did not grant rights; it needed gestures of inclusion because rulers freely professed the hegemony of their religion.
- In a modern state, it cannot be the state’s business to tell people what to eat, unless on public health or such grounds. The strength of a modern state is that it does not make rights dependent on a politics of gesture or benevolence. My liberty cannot be held hostage to someone else’s beliefs.
- The third strange argument is that meat bans are a sign of respect. The more you ban in the name of religion, the more derision you will evoke for it.
- First, a real culture of respect in a diverse society would involve genuine reciprocity. I wonder what the votaries of meat bans would think of compulsory fasting for non-Muslims on a number of days during Ramzan , since fasting itself would not violate any ethical principles. The respect argument is nonsense. It is asymmetric in getting others to give up their liberty for one religion. This is not respect; it’s an exercise of power. Respect is not something that’s imposed. Coercion is the antithesis of respect.
The other response to this asymmetry will often be to compensate by finding gestures of respect for other religions. But Indian secularism has been marred by this competitive politics of respect, which breeds group insecurity and competition. The state will always look partisan here.
- There are so many sensitive issues on which we have to delicately move towards a more modern regime based on citizenship — a common civil code or at least a framework for equal gender rights, the bizarre discrimination we have instituted where “majority”-run education institutions cannot have the autonomy that “minority” ones do — but these can only be tackled when the state does not tend to be partisan and seen as a cultural hegemon.
- The fourth self-defeating argument is that somehow these meat bans will actually promote less cruelty, or more vegetarianism. They should be objects of genuine ethical conversion. But we have not yet arrived at that point. State bans make the possibility of a healthy debate over these things less likely. They tie issues like vegetarianism or non-violence to sectarian identities, not to ethical values; they relocate them from the realm of rational and moral argument to the domain of cultural politics. The minute these values become an act of cultural power, they invite more resistance.
- Similarly, there are issues with bans on liquor. There are genuine social issues with drinking in India, and the violence and devastation it brings. But the minute the spectre of massive state intrusion is raised by the prospect of a ban, it becomes harder to sensitively confront these issues. The more you use state power to ban things, the more they will be contested.
A genuine secularism in India requires that the forces of individual liberty be given priority over social orthodoxy, that our rights as citizens become progressively detached from our particular identities, that there is genuine distrust of the state’s intrusive power over individual lives.
By making state power regulate intimate aspects of our lives, like what we eat and drink and wear, it is displaying its commitment to maximum government. And by constantly changing the narrative back to identity politics, it is displaying just how fragile and faltering its grip on new India is. No wonder the government seems distracted and confused.