The decision by a full bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court to vacate an earlier order on the ‘strict implementation’ of the Dogra-era law banning slaughter of bovines and the sale of beef in the state, could be called a half-corrective measure. What is encouraging is the Court’s observation that some laws have become ‘fossilised’; but the reality remains that the law still exists. In layman terms, the situation could be termed as having returned to the status quo before the ‘beef ban’ order was passed; and that a ‘lenient’ view on the law would now be taken. But the authorities are still bound by this ‘fossilised’ law, if they choose to invoke it. And Hindutva groups can still demand such an invocation. This, then, still leaves room for divisive politics and potentially explosive situations.
To vacate an order means that a particular order, in this case the direction to state authorities to ‘strictly implement’ the beef ban law, is rendered void, not the law itself. Effectively, this leaves room for the legislature to initiate moves to altogether abrogate that archaic law, as well as to enforce it. Ideally, the state government should now initiate a debate on how to go about doing away with a law passed by a de facto Hindutva state, where Muslims were treated as second class citizens. However, what is, unfortunately, likely to happen is that the government will seek to avoid the issue, and effectively allow Hindu extremists the space to continue to target and attack people.
The law is not something immutable; it changes over time, progresses. If the High Court says that some laws are fossilised, it is giving indication of that fact. The sad reality is that the ‘law’ in India is hostage to socio-political inventions, and that often means an interpretation that reflects majoritarianism. Neither the judiciary nor the legislature can, like Pontius Pilate, wash their hands off the matter and leave the issue to the discretion of a mob. This law is being used to dictate dietary habits and enforce a Hindutva agenda in J&K; it needs to be done away with.