May 09, 2016

India: Bombay high court decriminalises beef, rightly reminds state to stay out of private domains (Editorial, The Times of India, 9 May 2016)

The Times of India

Our freedoms: Bombay high court decriminalises beef, rightly reminds state to stay out of private domains

May 9, 2016,  TOI Editorials | Edit Page, India | TOI
The Bombay high court has upheld the liberal spirit of India’s Constitution by upholding Maharashtra’s beef-slaughter ban while allowing people in the state to consume beef imported from elsewhere. The court rightly struck down as “unconstitutional” draconian provisions of a law that made mere possession of beef punishable by a jail term of up to a year and a fine of Rs 2,000. While upholding the state’s right to legislate against animal slaughter, the division bench of Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Suresh Gupte’s decision to protect individual freedoms and draw a protective legal wall around them is timely and welcome. As they concluded, a ban on consuming imported beef would have been “an infringement of right of privacy, which is a fundamental right”.
The judges are absolutely right to suggest the government and police keep out of our kitchens. This is particularly so when different states have different traditions and rules: beef is legal and there are no restrictions on its consumption in the north-eastern states, West Bengal and Kerala. Some states like Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Andhra ban cow slaughter but not bull/bullock slaughter while others like Uttar Pradesh and Himachal allow slaughter for research purposes and of sick cattle. At the same time, several north-Indian states have imposed total bans on slaughter and consumption. The only way to manage such diversity is with tolerance and by respecting individual freedoms. This must be non-negotiable in a liberal democracy like ours.
When beef is stoked as a political issue it encourages criminal vigilantes, as the Dadri and Udhampur killings showed last year. Likewise, colonial era proscriptions against gay sex encourage violence against consenting adults. As with the kitchen, the state must stay out of citizens’ bedrooms too. Section 377 must be repealed.
Protecting our individual freedoms also means protecting the rights of those we disagree with. Debate, dissent and freedom are the essence of democracy and this is why recent events like the violence at Jadavpur University against the screening of a film which is seen to be right-wing are as disturbing as the slapping of sedition charges against JNU students. Whatever its politics, a film is a creative product and its screening should be tolerated. We cannot allow public discourse to turn so toxic that even a conversation across ideological divides becomes impossible. The defence of our freedoms must rest on a fundamental promise: We must agree to disagree.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.