The Bombay High Court judgement striking down some of the contentious provisions of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act establishes the right of people to eat the food of their choice if it is not injurious to their health. It also decriminalises the possession of beef in one’s home, permits the sale and possession of beef that’s been imported from outside the state and puts the onus on the police to prove that the meat in the possession of an individual is not imported.
This is a big victory as it not only brings relief to beef eaters in the state but is also a cue for anti-beef-ban activists in other states to challenge the ban in their states. There are nearly 20 states in India that have banned cow slaughter and the possession of meat of bovine animals illegally slaughtered in the state.
The judgement came on a slew of petitions, 20 in all, filed by citizens representing a cross-section of filmmakers, students, lawyers, women’s rights activists and butchers’ associations challenging the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act gazetted by the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis government in March 2015. Amongst the sections struck down was 5D that made the possession of beef brought from outside the state a crime.
The court said the state had not convinced them that Section 5D had an element of public interest. It further said that if the state told citizens what particular type of food to eat or possess in the privacy of their homes, it would certainly be an infringement of their right to privacy and the “right to be let alone”.
Whilst beef eaters are happy, the butchers whose livelihood depends on slaughtering animals are still in a quandary. They have suffered huge losses in the last one year and even now wonder about the mechanics and logistics of importing and selling the meat in the state. Apart from the fact that importing beef will be expensive, issues like all of them having to have in their posession some kind of receipt to prove the material is imported also have to be decided.
The victory for beef eaters and the right to privacy, however, didn’t mean a total loss of face for the Fadnavis government as the court upheld the ban on slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks. It accepted the government’s contention that it is necessary to preserve cows, bulls and bullocks as Maharashtra is an agricultural state.
The ban on slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks across the country, coming as it did in the wake of other pernicious utterings like “ghar wapsi” and the national/anti-national debate, was seen as targeting certain communities. Even the dalits felt threatened. Only time will tell whether this feeling will abate following the Bombay High Court judgement....