The order by a division bench of the Jammu wing of the state High Court, asking authorities to enforce the ban on ‘smuggling and slaughtering of bovine animals’ in J&K, is not legally ‘wrong.’ It is, in fact, merely asking authorities to enforce extant provisions of the law, namely Sections 298-A and 298-B of the Ranbir Penal Code. It could be argued the Court could have, following judicial precedents elsewhere, taken into account the archaic nature of this law. But the basic problem lies in the law itself; in when it was formulated and for what purpose. It is similar, for example, to the Indian law on sedition. That law was formulated by the British to control and repress a colonised population. To that extent, many Indian experts have called for the revocation of that archaic law, since it is used by the state as a draconian measure against dissent and criticism. The ‘ban on beef’ in Kashmir differs a bit in the sense of the rank communal intent behind its formulation along with facets of repression and, in today’s context, in the ‘appeal’ for its enforcement in Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir.
Kashmiri historians aver the ban on beef in Kashmir started with Sikh rule in 1819, and continued during Dogra rule – which regime, to put it mildly, was a de–facto Hindutva state. Stories abound about the brutality inflicted on Kashmiri Muslims on suspicion of cow slaughter. This was, thus, meant to enforce a Brahmanical-Hindutva lifestyle on Muslims by the Dogras. Arguably, the fact that beef consumption was not very popular in Kashmir till recent years could be due to the residual memory of the savage punishment that the law entailed. Yet, post Dogra rule, beef was consumed in some areas in Kashmir, and has had now had a bit of surge in popularity across the Valley. This can also be attributed to changes in dietary habits, which are historically contingent. Then, for a lot of people, beef, as an essential source of protein, is simply more affordable than mutton etc. And what now needs to be done is not the enforcement of an outdated, divisive and communally-inspired law, but for the government to abrogate it altogether.
Naturally, Muslims in the state are up in arms, and will be, if this ban is sought to be enforced. Leave alone ample scope for a legal challenge to be launched against this law (and which should be done), enforcement of a Hindutva-agenda statute in Kashmir will only yield strife.