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Law criminalizing cow slaughter, possession of beef "violates" state's mandate not to enforce religious practices on people

By Our Representative
Thirty senior citizens have challenged the Maharashtra government’s recent decision to ban cow slaughter and possession of beef as a non-bailable offence, saying the whole purpose of the ban is to “implement” a certain version of Hindu belief, which may not be acceptable to all. Filing a petition in the Bombay High Court, they say, the ban is “in violation of the basic structure of the Constitution of India which mandates the state not to make law towards enforcement of a particular religious practice.”
Consisting of some of the most well-known activists, writers, researchers and professionals based in Maharashtra, and filed through advocates Mihir Desai and Rebecca Gonsalvez, the petitioners say that the ban is in “violation of Article 51A (f) of the Constitution of India, which requires citizens to cherish the rich composite culture of India.”
They add, the ban order goes so far as to even criminalizes even the very possession of beef, including the one slaughtered outside Maharashtra – and all this under the “wrong” belief that “the Hindu religion does not permit eating of beef.”
Under the new law, according to the petitioners, even if one “purchases cooked or raw beef, or tinned beef in the State of Goa, where the slaughter of bulls and bullocks is permitted, which purchase is perfectly legal in Goa, and brings the same into Maharashtra, one would be committing an offence under the newly added section 5D.”
Pointing out that “one would then be arrested, and languish in jail in view of the offence being a non-bailable one, merely for possessing a tin of beef”, the petitioners says, this equally applies to even tinned beef purchased in the USA, where the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks is legal.”
Taking exception to making mere possession of beef a criminal, non-bailable offence in the State of Maharashtra punishable with imprisonment up to one year and fine up to Rs 2000, the petitioners say, this “encroaches upon the fundamental right of the petitioners to consume beef in the State of Maharashtra.”
Saying that the slaughter of bulls and bullocks was “permitted in the State of Maharashtra prior to March 4, 2015, subject to certain conditions”, the petitioners object to the introduction of a new section 5B to the existing law on cow slaughter, which “prohibits the sale/ disposal of any cow, bull or bullock for slaughter and impacts the availability of beef in Maharashtra.”
According to them, “The right to eat the food of one’s choice is an integral part of the right to life and personal liberty. Beef has been an essential part of the diet of some of the petitioners for years together. Some of the petitioners have traditionally eaten beef.”
Therefore, they say, the introduction of certain sections is an “encroachment on the fundamental right to life and personal liberty of the petitioners, their right to eat the food of their choice, food which they have eaten all their lives and is an essential part of their diets”.
Pointing out towards economic reasons for consuming beef, which is also their most important source of protein, the petitioners say, it was the “cheapest form of non-vegetarian food”, costing just Rs 120 per kg before it was banned, as against fish, chicken, mutton and lamb which range from Rs 175 to Rs 500 or more. “Even economically, there is no substitute for beef”, they insist.

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