Whenever Kashmir seems to be limping back to normalcy, a spur evolves all of a sudden to keep the lid of uncertainty open. One wonders whether insecurity and uncertainty as tools are deliberately installed time and again by vested interests or has violence and chaos become the culture of Kashmir.
It seems that whenever the attention moves towards some of the burning issues with which this sylvan vale is invariably beset, like security issues, financial inclusion, youth engagement, investment planning, tourism boost, employment, clean energy, etc, nothing but disappointment comes to the surface.
This time it is the beef ban on the pretext of the archaic (150 year old) Ranbir Penal Code enacted in 1862 by the then Dogra ruler, Maharaja Ranbir Singh (1857 AD -1885 AD). The High Court of Jammu and Kashmir recently gave a judgment on a PIL regarding the strict enforcement of (an already existing, but never really implemented after the Dogra regime) beef ban in the State. It must be noted that whereas section 298A of RPC, bans the slaughtering of a cow, ox or buffalo and treats it as a cognizable and non-bailable offence with ten years of imprisonment and fine, section 298 B treats the possession of the meat of such animals as a cognizable and non-bailable offence with one year of imprisonment and fine.
The question is, can such a code be relevant today given the Jammu and Kashmir’s contemporary socio-economic and religious landscape as 85.6 lakh out of the total 1.25 crore population are Muslims (68.3 % Muslim population, according to the 2001 census) and the Kashmir Valley’s Muslim population stands at about 95%. To answer this seems at once both simple and a trifle complicated as the bill for the same is likely to be discussed by the J&K legislature in autumn session and maybe it will be removed, but simultaneously it may serve as a dangerous precedent to those who want to abrogate article 370, given the changed political landscape now and powerful voices against the very special Act.
The question remains whether food habit issues are the only priority or has the government lost the vision for a massive social and economic reconstruction and transformation of the state that is trouble-torn and underdeveloped in all respects since umpteen decades and amid scores of sensitive and serious law and order challenges? The fact remains that now, politics revolve around non-issues only where the State is trying to decide the people’s food habits and install religion as a coercive factor along with hardcore ideologies that have become a central and dominating force, thereby sending the highly creditworthy values of democracy and egalitarianism to the gallows.
Well-known Kashmir based columnist Syeda Afshana aptly wrote in Greater Kashmir recently (September 13, 2015), “As such the ban is going to yield nothing but beef up the trouble in the state”, which is quite true as everyone has found a platform to practice politics on the meat subject and grab mass attention and support especially when Eid-ul-Zuha falls soon, where animal sacrifice is a fundamental religious duty.
Further exposing India’s beef business Afshana wrote, “In year 2014, India exported $4.3 billion worth of beef. The largest exporter of beef, India tops over the next highest exporter, Brazil, in the world market. The news in daily The Hindu reported, “India exported 2.4 million tonnes of beef and veal in FY2015, compared to 2 million tonnes by Brazil and 1.5 million by Australia as per the data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (10 August, 2015)” (Greater Kashmir, Sep.,13).
Therefore, people criticize such double standards of the State and oppose the ban vehemently under apprehension that interference in religion cannot be tolerated at all and many leaders appealing to the people to sacrifice bovine animals only on the occasion of the forthcoming Eid simply to give a strong and unmistakable message to the ban enforcing agencies and fanatics that such coercion can never be accepted.
Can Archaic Codes be above the People
Laws are always made for the welfare of the society, while keeping the context in view. It is believed that such a code of RPC has altogether no relevance today. Therefore it definitely needs to be amended or removed. If RPC provides for this ban then we need to see the utility of the very code and go back to the past, assess the context when it was enforced and see the changing landscape of Jammu and Kashmir. The State’s socio-cultural, religious and historical aspects need to be understood before enforcing anything that is simply impractical, agonizing, alienating, oppressive and not acceptable at all given the context and religious and other values.
Also the practice of beef eating is not something against the nation state or harmful to democracy or for that matter an insult to any religion. Imposing such bans forcibly is a clear breach of democratic values and it becomes quite clear that instead of building peace in Kashmir, the people in power are interested in promoting annoying non-issues like beef eating practice, etc. Further we have to see where such enforcements land us, especially in Kashmir where mass anger, trust deficit against the state apparatus, terror and prolonged trauma, increasing poverty and dependency level amid mounting unemployment, have already affected the larger society and deteriorated the law and order situation considerably.
We must realize that humanity and democracy, along with the transformation of Kashmir, cannot be taken through such frivolous and unneeded enforcements and politics based on religious sentiments need to be stopped forthwith! The onus lies holistically on the State to revoke the code on the basis of which the honorable High Court issued the orders of the ban. There is a dire need to repeal all the old laws which have become largely outdated.
The Actual Crisis
The rapidly deteriorating law and order situation, growing militancy of young and educated adults, increasing alienation and unemployment, are the real issues that need to be taken up seriously both by the state and the center. I believe we are totally not structured to overcome such major issues, given the fact of our consistent failure in Kashmir. The beef ban, if strictly enforced, will leave a miserable and entirely unnecessary trail of suffering behind it in terms of the thousands of people associated with the business and lakhs of people will be affected directly or indirectly, besides the impact on peace and calm in the State. Instead of giving preference to long pending human rights abuse cases, enforced disappearances, suffering widows and half-widows, civilian killings etc, beef politics is getting a lot of unneeded hype and therefore needs not to be politicized.
People’s Apprehensions against the State
Kashmir sociology at the moment reveals that people need some assurances and clarifications as unanswered or ambiguously answered questions/issues over a consistently prolonged period of time, have made people very apprehensive.
Such issues, which are never answered and never taken serious note of, include:
- The apprehensions of the masses about the State’s plans to abrogate article 370.
- The complete lack of interest on behalf of the State in talks on Kashmir
- No concern for the deteriorating peace process and pace of peace building efforts.
- Lack of victory on the security front.
- Mounting uncertainty, perpetual chaos, poor disaster management and an extremely fragile economy.
- The people’s growing disbelief in the State’s poor democratic system given incarcerations, PSA’s, AFSPA, and now even interference in essential food habits.
- The unaddressed aspirations of the vulnerable segments of society like women, children, youth, etc,.
- More coercion, less freedom, no empowerment and no agenda for peace.
- No change and no delivery on the ground.
- No respect to or space for dissent, growing youth alienation and anti-national tendencies
It is imperative that the State build a proper tackling mechanism and issue responsible statements so that the masses already having scores of preconceived and negative notions, threats, confusion and misapprehensions about censored liberty, speech, dissent, food habits and religious affairs, get cleared positively and people can then breathe a sigh of relief. It is direly needed at this juncture, where the government needs to espouse the genuine causes of its own people and understand their cries for liberty, free will and the right to practice their religion the way they want to, rather than their usual delaying tactics and politics on lingering issues.
The beef ban issue is yet another cheap opportunity offered to the enemies of peace, to stir up a cauldron of controversy and give birth to yet another uprising in the already fragile and hard earned peace in the Kashmir Valley, which is fast vanishing. The people in power cannot set aside the social tensions prevailing in Kashmir, get skeptical about the beef ban issue and go on without a road map for the future, on what actually needs to be done in Kashmir to develop it in terms of security, youth engagement, employment, private sector, etc, for overall stability of the State.
Jammu and Kashmir’s political leadership needs a broader consensus on redefining the very concept of religious sentiments as it is true that not the masses but politicians give too much hype to the so called community or religious sentiments for their vested interests and polarized vote banks. I personally believe I have no right to interfere in anybody’s food plate and peoples’ food pattern and habits need not to be regulated under codes, laws or social or political coercion. It is quite anti-democratic to censor any one’s food habits and religious ethos. People in general need to understand the politics behind so called religious sentiments and maintain harmony, love and brotherhood. Instead of changing and interfering in the food habits of people, the state should make a positive difference in alleviating the miserable lives of suffering Kashmiris.