When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the general elections in 2014, it had promised “minimum government, maximum governance”. Unfortunately, some of the BJP-ruled states have not received the memo. The sale of meat has been banned in five states, according to recent news reports. The rationale behind the imposition of such bans stems from the oft-used appeasement policy of “respecting the sentiments of religious communities”. Suffice to say, the more you ban anything in the name of religion, the more contempt you will evoke for it. More importantly, such a policy entails that you give up your liberty out of the state government’s respect for a particular religion. Such bans are not out “respect” for a religious community, but an imposition of state power on the dietary habits of its populace. Would it constitute “respect” for the Muslim community, if the state had imposed compulsory fasting on non-believers during Ramzan? The other argument posed by its defenders is that such bans will promote less animal cruelty. It is a laughable position, and not because the production of meat items on the market imposes unnecessary cruelty to animals. The fundamental point here is that state-imposed bans will prevent any healthy discussion on the issue. Instead, issues of animal cruelty and vegetarianism will be inadvertently tied to sectarian identities, instead of moral arguments. According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a leading Indian academic, “the more you use state power to ban things, the more they will be contested. As our demands for bans on books, the intent is to assert community power and draw attention, not solve a real problem”.
On the question of individual freedoms, the current ban has precedence in our legal system. In 2008, the Ahmedabad municipal corporation had issued an order, seeking to <g data-gr-id="36">shutdown</g> slaughterhouses during the Jain festival of Paryushana. This order was challenged by local butchers, who felt that such a ban impinged on their right to livelihood. Although the High Court sided with the local butchers, the apex court overturned the decision. The reasons subsequently given were essentially based on the standard appeasement policy of “we must respect the feelings of all communities”, besides the short length of the ban (nine days). What this rationale fails to take into account is that no community has the right to impose its religious beliefs on other segments of society. The length of the ban or the “sentiments” or a particular community is rather irrelevant at this juncture to the larger debate of individual freedoms. When the apex court fails to protect our individual rights, it is a cause for much concern. Moreover, it is not as if the ban will completely stop the sale of meat products. Instead, there will be a black market for such meat products, and the government will subsequently lose out on essential tax revenue. <g data-gr-id="39">Finally</g> the defenders of such bans cannot <g data-gr-id="38">hid</g> behind the argument that previous Congress-ruled administrations did the same. It’s no secret that the Congress has played the conniving game of sectarian politics, with scant regard for individual liberty. More than a year after its decimation in the general elections, it safe to say the party is struggling to remain relevant today. It is important to gauge the mistakes of history. However, these mistakes then cannot become the basis for future government policy. It would be foolish and shortsighted to commit such a folly.