Policing our Plate: What does an enforced Meat Ban mean? Arbitrary ban an assault on cultural diversity, unlawful and unconstitutional

23, May 2022 | Smital Sawant

In an overt political expression of the desire to convert India into a homogeneous society controlled by an authoritarian state, right-wing supremacist groups have, in the first half of 2022, banded together once more to demand a ban on meat. This onslaught is also specifically a targeted attack on India’s Muslim minority community, the more invisible Christian minority and India’s Dalits. Most of all, this is a fundamental assault on India’s rich diversity.

The underlying narrative behind this dual objective is that India (read Indians) are primarily, first and foremost vegetarian. That is the authentic Indians who owe allegiance to this homogenising project. This belies the reality, however.As the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) shows, the consumption of non-vegetarian food is on the rise.

So, while not everyone turns vegetarian during the nine days of Chaitya Navratri, this year, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation’s Mayor Mukkesh Suryan decided that they, in fact do, and ruled that all meat shops in the area will be shut down during the period (April 2 to 11, 2022). Soon after the order made news, scores of shops in markets of the zone downed their shutters. Delhi has been grappling with such an informally imposed ban on meat sale on Tuesdays for the past seven to eight years now.

According to an NDTV report, around 30 meat shops in INA market, one of the largest food markets in the capital, were also shut down. As was the case during the sudden lockdown when it was first imposed two years ago, this shutdown too has come without notice or warning. Daily wage earners employed at various levels in the meat and egg supply chains are usually the ones who are worst affected. According to a report by Newslaundry, if there were at least a fair warning for labourers, they have said that they would have migrated home for the nine days rather than be in the city without wages.

According to South Delhi Mayor Mukkesh Suryaan, who belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), “During Navratri, 99 percent of households in Delhi don’t even use garlic and onion. So, we have decided that no meat shops will be open in South MCD.” He added that a “fine will be imposed on violators.” Mayor Suryaan attempted to rationalise his decision, telling NDTV, “When meat is not sold, people will not eat it. We have taken this decision keeping in mind the sentiments of Delhiites. People complained to me. The fasting people were facing problems over the cutting of meat in the open. This is not a violation of anyone’s personal liberty.” He added, “On 8, 9, 10 April, we will also close all slaughterhouses.” Yet another decision taken without taking into account the economic impact of the sudden ban on people employed in the industry. Nor the freedom of all Indians to diverse cultural choices.

Given that the BJP is in power at the Centre and over a dozen states, this selective assault on cultural freedom salso spread to other parts of the country as Chaitya Navratri commenced, with many other states also demanding a ban on all meat sales during the nine days of Navratri.Joining the bandwagon was Nand Kishor Gurjar, BJP Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) who represents Loni, Ghaziabad. Gurjar is also well known along the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border for personally walking up and down the township, verbally abusing Muslims, forcing them to down the shutters of their shops if they sold chicken or goat meat.

Apart from partisan executive moves, now the forum of the Supreme Court will be used to push back on fundamental rights. On April 22, 2022, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition was filed in the Supreme Court of India seeking a nation-wide ban on Halal certified products and withdrawal of Halal certification. Petitioner, Advocate Vibhor Anand, stated that he is filing the PIL on behalf of “85% Citizens of the Country” upon whom Halal products are being allegedly forced. According to LiveLaw, the petition states, “The present petition is being filed by the petitioner on behalf of 85% Citizens of the Country for the enforcement of their Fundamental Rights provided under Article 14, 21 of the Constitution of India as the same are being infringed and violated. It is being seen that for the sake of 15% of the population, rest 85% people are being forced to consume the Halal Products against their will.”

Not to be left out, BJP General Secretary, CT Ravi , who has a decades-long record for provocative speeches, jumped on the right-wing bandwagon demanding a boycott of ‘Halal’ meat. It is noteworthy that the call was specifically targeted at ‘Halal’ meat, and not all non-vegetarian products. This shows the communal intentions behind demanding the ban as ‘Halal’ meat is associated with Muslim dietary habits. Ravi also called all Halal food ‘economic jihad’, adopting a right-wing tactic to associate Muslims with words like Jihad/Jehad (Holy War). He reportedly said, “Halal is an economic Jehad. It means that it is used like a Jehad so that Muslims should not do business with others. It has been imposed. When they think that Halal meat should be used, what is wrong in saying that it should not be used?”

Are a majority of Indians vegetarian?

Contrary to the claims made in the petition, BBC reported on April 4, 2018, “Only about 20% of Indians are actually vegetarian – much lower than common claims and stereotypes suggest. Hindus, who make up 80% of the Indian population, are major meat-eaters. Even only a third of the privileged, upper-caste Indians are vegetarian.”

According to the recently released National Health and Family Survey (NFHS-5), which was conducted in 2019-21, there has been an increase in the number of Indians who eat non-vegetarian food. As per the survey, over two-third Indians (15-49 years of age) “eat non-vegetarian food daily, weekly or occasionally.” Now, many more eat meat at least once a week across India when compared to the data of NFHS-5 in 2015-16. In fact, the number of Indians now eating eggs has also been reported to have gone up appreciably.

The Pew Research Centre, in its 2021 report emphasises that “the majority of Indians do not describe themselves as vegetarians: When asked if they are vegetarian, 61% of Indians say “no.” Only 39% or four-in-ten adults in India, responded that they follow a vegetarian diet.”

Two years ago, in 2020, while hearing a plea to ban Halal meat, the Supreme Court reportedly commented[1], “Tomorrow you will say nobody should eat meat? We cannot determine who should be a vegetarian and who should be a non-vegetarian.”

CJP too had taken a deep-dive into the jurisprudence surrounding meat ban. The detailed legal resource may be read here.

In 2019, in the case of Healthy Wealthy Ethical World and Guide India Trust &Ors vs. Union of India &Ors [WP (Civil) No. 1170/2018] seeking ban on export of meat, the Supreme Court orally remarked, “Do you want everybody in this country to be vegetarian? We can’t issue an order that everyone should be vegetarian,” reported LiveLaw[2].In its order dated March 25, 2019, the Court dismissed the said petition.

In December 2021, while dealing with a plea [DilipGatubhaiRoat&Ors vs. State of Gujarat (Special Civil Application No. 18209 of 2021)] filed by street vendors who were prohibited from selling non-vegetarian food on the streets of Ahmedabad, the Gujarat High Court rapped the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) and asked how could people be prevented from eating what they want to eat. The Bench of Justice Biren Vaishnav reportedly asked, “You don’t like non-veg food, it is your lookout. How can you decide what people should eat outside? How can you stop people from eating what they want?” The Bench orally remarked, “How can you decide what people should eat? Suddenly because someone in power thinks that this is what they want to do? Tomorrow you will decide what I should eat outside my house? Tomorrow, they will tell me that I should not consume sugarcane juice because it might cause diabetes or that coffee is bad for my health.”

Is the meat ban during a Hindu festival even legal?

Violation of Constitutional rights

Such arbitrary actions of shutting down meat shops without any legal basis is a violation of the constitutional rights of the shop owners.

Article 14. Equality before law. —The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.

Article 15. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. — (1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.

Non-discrimination and equality are fundamental human rights principles. The ban on Meat shop not only discriminates between Hindu and Muslims but also discriminates between the rich and poor. The only group mainly affected by such bans are small-scale meat vendors, whose livelihood depends on the daily sale of meat, which is freely available in supermarkets, restaurants and online stores.

According to General Comment No. 18 issued by UN’s Human Rights Committee, “Not every differentiation of treatment will constitute discrimination, if the criteria for such differentiation are reasonable and objective and if the aim is to achieve a purpose which is legitimate under the Covenant. ”Bans on the sale of meat clearly fail this test of reasonable classification. The power of Reasonable Classification given to the State must not be arbitrary, artificial, or evasive and must always rest upon some real and substantial grounds. In the case of Anwar Ali Sarkar v. The State of West Bengal[AIR 1952 Cal 150], the Supreme Court of India through Sudhir Ranjan Das, J. laid down the twin test for reasonable classification. The court held that for the classification to pass the test, two conditions must be fulfilled:

  1. Classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes those that are grouped together from others and
  2. The differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the Act.

The court further said,“The differentia which is the basis of the classification and the object of the act are distinct things and what is necessary is that there must be a nexus between them i.e., the object of the law and the grouping.”

As per the principles of international human rights law, any interference with a fundamental right can only be justified when they are prescribed by law, they are necessary to achieve a legitimate aim and are proportionate to the aim pursued.

In the case of Justice K. S. Puttaswamy vs. Union of India (2017) 10 SCC 1, drawing from the concept of proportionality that is used to balance rights and competing interests under European law, Chandrachud J., notes that any invasion of life or personal liberty must meet the three requirements of (a) legality, i.e. there must be a law in existence; (b) legitimate aim, which he illustrates as including goals like national security, proper deployment of national resources, and protection of revenue; and (c) proportionality of the legitimate aims with the object sought to be achieved. The Court stated “Proportionality is an essential facet of the guarantee against arbitrary state action because it ensures that the nature and quality of the encroachment on the right is not disproportionate to the purpose of the law. Hence, the three-fold requirement for a valid law arises out of the mutual inter-dependence between the fundamental guarantees against arbitrariness on the one hand and the protection of life and personal liberty, on the other”.

Article 19. Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.— (1) All citizens shall have the right—


(g) to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

Article 19(6) of the Constitution restricts the exercise of the rights conferred by Article 19(1)(g) to the extent that such reasonable restriction is in the interest of the general public. Banning the sale of meat during the nine days of Hindu festival violates the shop owner’s right to carry on his trade or business and the interference with this fundamental right is not justified as it does not pursue the legitimate aim of ‘interest of general public’.

In the case of Mohd. Faruk vs State Of Madhya Pradesh And Others [1970 AIR 93],The sentiments of a section of the people may be hurt by permitting slaughter of bulls and bullocks in premises maintained by a local authority. But a prohibition imposed on the exercise of a fundamental right to carry on an occupation, trade or business will not be regarded as reasonable, if it is imposed not in the interest of the general public, but merely to respect the susceptibilities and sentiments of a section of the people whose way of life, belief or thought is not the same as that of the claimant“.

Article 21. Protection of life and personal liberty. – No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

In the case of Bandhu Mukti Morcha vs. Union of IndiaLL 2021 SC 274, the Supreme Court held “The Right to Life as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution gives right to every human being to live a life of dignity with access to at-least bare necessities of life….. There has been worldwide awareness regarding right to food to human being. The basic concept of food security globally is to ensure that all people, at all times, should get access to the basic food for their active and healthy life. The Constitution of India does not have any explicit provision regarding right to food. The fundamental right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution may be interpreted to include right to live with human dignity, which may include the right to food and other basic necessities”.

The right to food has been recognized as part of one’s fundamental right to privacy under Article 21. In 2017, incase of Justice K. S. Puttaswamy vs. Union of India (2017) 10 SCC 1, the nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court unanimously declared the privacy to be a fundamental right and held that “it is a fundamental and inalienable right and attaches to the person covering all information about that person and the choices that he/she makes. It protects an individual from the scrutiny of the State in their home, of their movements and over their reproductive choices, choice of partners, food habits, etc.

Ban is Arbitrary!

The ‘Rule of Law’ which is the basic structure of the Constitution restricts the arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to well defined and established law. Law should govern the nation and not the arbitrary decisions of the government or executive authorities. The Concept of the Rule of Law cannot be upheld in its true spirit if the administrative organ of the state is not charged with the duty of performing their function in a fair and just manner. In the case of K. Anbazhagan vs The Superintendent Of Police &Ors (2004) 3 SCC 767 and Gurucharan Das Chadha vs State Of Rajasthan (1966) 2 SCR 678, the Supreme Court recognizes the principles of the administration of justice that ‘Justice should not only be done but it should be seen to be done’.

To take what happened in Delhi for example, it was the mayor who called for the meat ban whereas according to Section 405 and 406 of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957, it is the Commissioner who has the power to impose such a ban, that too with prior public notice.

405. Provision of municipal market and slaughter houses-

(1) The Commissioner, when authorised by the Corporation in this behalf, may provide and maintain municipal markets and slaughter houses in such number as he thinks fit together with stalls, shops, sheds, pens and other buildings and conveniences for the use of persons carrying on trade or business in, or frequenting such markets or slaughter houses and may provide and maintain in any such markets, buildings and places, machines, weights, scales and measures for the weighment or measurement of goods sold therein.

(2) Municipal markets and slaughter houses shall be under the control of the Commissioner who may, at any time, by public notice, close any municipal market or slaughter house or any part thereof.

406. Use of municipal markets

(1) No person shall, without the general or special permission in writing of the Commissioner, sell or expose for sale any animal or article in any municipal market.

(2) Any person contravening the provisions of sub-section (1), and any animal or article exposed for sale by such person, may be summarily removed from the market by or under the orders of the Commissioner or any officer or employee of the Corporation authorised by the Commissioner in this behalf.

In the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978) 1 SCC 248, the Supreme court in clear words observed that Article 14 strikes at arbitrariness in state actions and ensures fairness and equality in treatment. Rule of law which is the basic feature of the Indian Constitution excludes arbitrariness. Where there is arbitrariness there is denial of Rule of Law. The Court held, “Equality and arbitrariness are sworn enemies; one belongs to the rule of law in a republic while the other to the whim and caprice of an absolute monarch.  Article 14 strikes at arbitrariness in State action and ensures fairness and equality, of treatment. The principle of reasonableness which legally as well as philosophically, is an essential element of equality or non-arbitrariness pervades Article 14 like a brooding omni-presence and the procedure contemplated by  Article  21 must answer the test  of  reasonableness  in order to be in conformity with Article 14.  It must be right and just and fair and not  arbitrary, fanciful or oppressive.

The Court also held that Article 21, 14 and 19 are not mutually exclusive. It stated that “The law must therefore be now taken to be well-settled that Article 21  does not exclude Article 19 and  that  even  if there is a law prescribing procedure for depriving a  person of  personal liberty and there is consequently no  infringement of the fundamental right conferred by Art. 21, such law so far as it abridges or takes  away  any fundamental right  under Article 19 would have to meet the challenge  of that Article.  Equally such law would be liable to be tested with reference to Art. 14 and the procedure prescribed by it would have to answer the requirement of that Article.

”In the case of Shaikh Zahid Mukhtar vs. State of Maharashtra [WP. 5731 of 2015], the Bombay High Court struck down certain amendments to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act 1976 relating to beef ban and held that “as far as the choice of eating food of the citizens is concerned, the citizens are required to be let alone especially when the food of their choice is not injurious to health…The State cannot make an intrusion into his home and prevent a citizen from possessing and eating food of his choice.”

In February 2015, the President had granted assent to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act. While the original 1976 Act banned slaughter of cows, the amendment prohibited, in addition, slaughter of bulls and bullocks and possession and consumption of their meat. Thereafter, a batch of petitions challenging the beef ban have been placed for final deliberation before a Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court.

In the case of, Saeed Ahmad vs. State of Uttar Pradesh [Misc. Bench No. 6871 of 2017] the Allahabad High Court held that“…it is the private life of an individual that is also affected who may desire to have such foodstuffs as his private choice of consumption”. It further held that “Apart from this, the issue of non-availability of any such facilities for the slaughtering of animals is the major concern that has given rise to this problem. In the absence of any facilities having been provided by the Municipal Corporations, the local bodies or the Zila Panchayats, such trade or profession may prima facie face complete prohibition and affect the livelihood of those involved in this trade and profession thereby impinging their Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Not only this the same is also coupled with the issues relating to their livelihood apart from their trade and profession, that would also impinge Article 21 of the Constitution of India”

However, while courts have always tried to ensure that right to carry on trade under Article 19(1)(g) is not violated, many of regulations imposed by states have been in some way or the other allowed to continue under “reasonable restrictions” in the interest of the Directive Principles of State Policy that run concurrently with fundamental rights.

For instance, in 1958 the cattle slaughter laws imposed in states of Bihar, UP and Madhya Pradesh were challenged before the Supreme Court in Mohd. Hanif Qureshi v. State of Bihar 1958 AIR 731 for violating fundamental rights. The court had held that restrictions on the slaughter of cattle did not infringe on the petitioners’ freedom to practice their religion under article 25 since it had not been established that the sacrifice of cows on the religious holiday of Bakr-Eid is of an obligatory or essential part of the Islamic religion as opposed to being optional. The court observed that since the country was in short supply of milch cattle, breeding bulls and working bullocks, a total ban on their slaughter is a reasonable restriction to impose in the interests of the general public. The court however, also held that a total ban on the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and she-buffaloes after they had ceased to be useful was invalid under the Constitution.

Animal Welfare concerns

In the case of Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja&Ors. (theJallikattu case) Civil Appeal No. 5387 of 2014, with regard to Article 21, the Supreme Court notably held:

“Every species has a right to life and security, subject to the law of the land, which includes depriving its life, out of human necessity. Article 21 of the Constitution, while safeguarding the rights of humans, protects life and the word “life” has been given an expanded definition and any disturbance from the basic environment which includes all forms of life, including animal life, which are necessary for human life, fall within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution. So far as animals are concerned, in our view “life” means something more than mere survival or existence or instrumental value for human beings, but to lead a life with some intrinsic worth, honor and dignity.”

In the same ruling, the Supreme Court declared Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution to be the “magna carta of animal rights” in India and included the right to life of animals under Article 21 to value their lives as much as humans.

It is to be noted that the Constitution has assigned “preservation, protection and improvement of stock and prevention of animal diseases; veterinary training and practice” in Entry 15 of seventh Schedule in State List while “prevention of cruelty to animals” is Entry 17 under the Concurrent List. Further, Article 48 which comes under Directive Principles of State Policy states, “The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.”

In the case of State of Gujarat v. Mirzapur Moti KureshiKassabJamat (2005), the Supreme Court held that Article 48 envisions a total ban on the slaughter of cows and their progeny. It observed that cattle which has served the human species must be treated with compassion in its old age even though it is useless. The Court also ruled that “it was evident from the combined reading of Articles 48 and 51- A(g) of the [Indian] Constitution that citizens must show compassion to the animal kingdom. The animals have their own fundamental rights. Article 48 specifically lays down that the state shall endeavour to prohibit the slaughter of cows and calves, other milch and draught cattle”.

Hypocrisy of cow politics

In a study report undertaken by SabrangIndia based in Gujarat which has been a torchbearer of the cow-protection movement, it was revealed how the Cow Protection Laws in fact failed to protect the animals in the State. The data unequivocally established that even after 70 years of stringent implementation of cow protection laws, the law and subsequent amendments have been totally ineffective and failed to achieve the goal of protecting Gujarat’s cows.Part II of this exclusive data-driven study revealed that during the census period 2012-2019, around 56.42 lakh males (bullocks) were culled and eliminated from the population illegally, which included 25.27 lakh native breed plus 31.15 lakhs crossbred males. Considering the 37.8 lakhs missing cows described in the earlier article, the Gujarat state, which claims to be a serious protector of cow progeny, failed to save 94.22 lakhs cattle with an average elimination rate of one lakh cattle every month.

As of today, only Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram have no laws prohibiting cow slaughter. For a ready reckoner on cow slaughter laws in different states, take a look at this factsheet compiled by CJP.

Sure, it can also be argued that meat production contributes to climate change as it affects the biodiversity and requires a lot of water, to name a few a problems, but such an arbitrary ban on meat sale is illegal and in this case, it seems to be only imposed with the intention of targeting the marginalised section of society,specifically Muslims, as has been the case with the demolition drive undertaken recently in Jahangirpuri, Delhi along with other parts of the country.Such bans emerge as nothing short of a political act carried out under the aegis of right-wing Hindutva extremist groups and leaders.

Image Courtesy: news18.com


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Cow Slaughter Prevention Laws in India





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