I'm fasting but you can't eat meat: Why should BMC impose one religion's practice on others?

It’s not about Akbar. It’s not about the Beef Ban. It’s not even about the BJP. Or Shiv Sena. Or Congress. All of those are red herrings in the latest food fight going on in India.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has banned animal slaughter for four days this month during the Jain fasting period of Paryushan. That comes on the heels of the 8-day ban by the Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari smells “fascism” in the ban ignoring the fact that this ban has actually been going on for years.

Firstpost spoke to Dr. Kaleem Pathan, general manager in charge of Deonar Abbatoir of BMC to track how a ban grew while no one was looking. If anything this ban has many fathers. Everyone from Emperor Akbar to Makrandey Katju to BJP legislators like Raj Purohit and Atul Bhatkhalkar played a role.

In 1964, in pre-BJP/Shiv Sena days two corporators proposed and got a one-day slaughter ban.

 Im fasting but you cant eat meat: Why should BMC impose one religions practice on others?

Representative image. Reuters

In 1994, another day was added to the ban. This time two BJP corporators were the ones proposing and seconding it.

In 2004, the state government’s Urban Development department issued a circular which added two more days for slaughterhouses to be shut down during the Jain fasting season. At that time the state government was under Congress-NCP control.

There is a bit of a “Gujarat model” going on here as well.

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Himsa Virodhak Sangh and against the butchers of Ahmedabad who had challenged Gujarat’s Paryushan ban on slaughterhouses on the grounds that it was impacting their right to earn a livelihood.

Scroll notes that Justices Makrandey Katju and H K Sema ruled that 8-9 days in a state with a large population of Jains was not that onerous a sacrifice for the sake of “tolerance and respect for all communities and sects”. They wrote:

If the Emperor Akbar could forbid meat eating for six months in a year in Gujarat, is it unreasonable to abstain from meat for nine days in a year in Ahmedabad today?

The justices noted approvingly that the Mughal empire lasted as long as it did because of “the wise policy of toleration” of Akbar and hence “the same wise policy of toleration alone can keep our country together despite so much diversity”.

Last year armed with the Ahmedabad example, Jain organizations in Mumbai demanded a 9-day-ban from the BMC as well and the issue suddenly gained momentum and media coverage to become the Big Ban theory of everything.

The current furore over the ban misses the main point altogether because it’s too busy scoring political points via finger-pointing. When Chetan Bhagat tweeted out “It isn’t about meat. It isn’t about religion. It is about using state power to impose your preferences on another in a free country” he got a volley of criticism back about “selective outrage”.

For example, “Where were you when secular congis imposed it…its been practices in Bombay since 93.”

“I was in college. And there was no Twitter,” retorted Bhagat.

Someone might as well have written “Where were you when Emperor Akbar banned it?”

The point is not four days or eight days. The point is not whether Bakhr-Id falls in the middle of it. The point is not that the planet would be better off if non-vegetarians went without their mutton for a week. It probably would. The point is why should one group’s personal religious practice, proscription or prescription, be imposed on everyone else? It does not matter what they do in Saudi Arabia. We do not live in Saudi Arabia. For that matter we do not live in Akbar’s empire either where the royal firmaan was the last word on the subject.

We live in a secular republic. And Muslims cannot demand everyone else go on a fast during Ramadan just as Jains should not demand everyone else stop eating meat during Paryushan.

The problem with any ban like this is the precedent it sets. The court might have thought nine days was not an unreasonable compromise in Gujarat. “Out of respect, for their sentiments surely the non-vegetarians can remain vegetarian for 9 days in a year”.

That Supreme Court ruling specifically talks only about the “large population of Jains in Rajasthan and Gujarat”. But as we can see now what happens in Ahmedabad can easily cross over to Mumbai. And once we start going down the slippery slope an innocuous two days can become four can become eight can become…?

The irony is all this is being done in the name of tolerance. One person's tolerance can become another person's appeasement. And if one community cannot “tolerate” another’s practice, whatever that practice, then the very idea of tolerance becomes weaker for all.

Vishwas Waghmode contributed to this report.

Updated Date: Sep 09, 2015 13:39:59 IST