India: Kashmiri Ruling Coalition Partners Feuding Over Beef Ban

Amin Ahmad

150924-IN-cow-1000 A cow rests in a street in Srinagar, Kashmir, Dec. 19, 2008.

Residents of Indian-administered Kashmir will mark Eid-ul-Adha on Friday, but a recently imposed ban on beef – an important ingredient in meals served during the Islamic holiday – stayed in place Thursday.

Apart from angering Muslims and leading to street protests, the court-ordered ban has raised tensions between the main partners in a coalition that rules Jammu & Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state. The predominantly Muslim People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also heads India’s ruling coalition, together lead the state’s governing bloc.

Their rift widened on Tuesday when apparent pressure from the PDP resulted in the sacking of two of the state’s law officers, both of whom are Hindus. The J&K law ministry dismissed Additional Advocate General Vishal Sharma and Deputy Advocate General Parmikosh Seth, it said in a statement, “for failing to convince the high court against passing the verdict on sale[s] of beef in the state.”

On Sept. 9, the state’s High Court ruled in favor of a petition filed last year by Seth, which called on the justices to invoke an 83-year-old law, the Ranbir Penal Code of 1932. It prohibits the slaughter of cows and beef sales in the region.

Seth had filed the petition seeking a statewide beef ban before being appointed as J&K’s deputy advocate general, but he continued to press for it after his appointment.

BJP officials reacted sharply to the dismissal of the two officials.

“PDP should have consulted its ruling ally, the BJP, before sacking the lawyers,” Ishfaq-ur-Rehman Poswal, a state BJP leader, told BenarNews.

“This unilateral decision indicates that the PDP has probably forgotten that they are part of a coalition government. Coalition governments do not run like this,” he added.

“Instead of honoring the high court decision and imposing a ban on sales of beef in the state, the law ministry, under the PDP, took an immature decision and terminated the services of the two lawyers.’’

Under pressure

According to news reports, the coalition government’s PDP flank had asked Seth to pull his petition or face the consequences.

"The law department was pressuring me to withdraw the petition but I refused to withdraw it since it was just about implementation of law," NDTV quoted Seth as saying in referring to the 1932 law.

The Ranbir Penal Code was adopted in that year when Hindu Dogra rulers governed the region. After the Indian Sub-Continent was partitioned in 1947, the law still stood but the prohibition on beef was never enforced.

PDP officials, meanwhile, defended the decision to sack the lawyers.

“In violation of rules of engagement of state law officers, Seth did not withdrew his petition even after his appointment as deputy advocate general earlier this year,” state Minister of rural Development Abdul Haq Khan, a PDP member, told BenarNews.

“It is the law ministry’s decision to act against incompetent officials or wrong doers and the BJP should not make an issue out of it,” he added.

The PDP and main opposition National Conference party now are moving to introduce bills in the state assembly to amend the 1932 law, but did not specify when they plan to do so.

The BJP, on the other hand, made it clear that it would vehemently oppose such a move.

Religious interference?

In India, where a majority of the population is Hindu, bans on the slaughter of cows and beef sales are in place in 24 out of its 29 states. Most Hindus do not eat beef because, in their religion, the cow is sacred.

In Hindu-dominated Jammu, Divisional Commissioner Pawan Kotwal ordered that all deputy commissioners implement the ban strictly, Greater Kashmir quoted him as saying.

In the Kashmir Valley, however, beef traders and consumers were defying the ban this week as the Eid holiday approached.

“The authorities will never succeed in implementing a ban on sale of beef in Kashmir,’’ Shameem Ahmad Malik, a Baramulla district resident, told BenarNews.

“Beef is consumed by Muslims across the world and banning the dish here is a direct interference in our religious affairs. The authorities must realize the sensitivity of the matter and immediately revoke the ban,’’ he added.    

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