The Mumbai meat ban, put into place for the fasting period of Paryushan during the Jain festival, was unreasonable and lacked the spirit of tolerance, according to the Indian Supreme Court. On Sept. 17, the court refused to interfere with the Bombay High Court order that stayed the decree of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai prohibiting the sale of meat during the fast. The High Court will have to decide the matter in the upcoming six months.
The meat ban, introduced by the Congress government in 1994, resulted in media uproar and protests that polarized the Indian nation. Vineet Jain, an adherent of the Jain faith, wrote on one of the social platforms, “I am a Jain and a vegetarian yet I believe the government has no right to impose diet preference on people based on religion.” At the core of the controversy is the mismatch between cultural expectations and India’s diversity and ever-changing times. In a scathing editorial, the Express News Service exposed the dichotomy. “Most absurd of all is the argument that India is once and future vegetarian nation. A multicultural nation that is nevertheless monocultural is a contradiction in terms,” read the editorial.
Jainism, which has its historical roots in Hinduism, is an ancient Indian religion that teaches a life of forgiveness, religious austerity and harmlessness. The Jains’ most-celebrated festivals are the Diwali and the Paryushana. The Diwali is associated with eating, drinking and merriment and is the opposite of the Paryushan festival. According to Abhishek Jain, another adherent of Jainism, the Paryushan festival is a period of eight days of religious fasting and forgiveness. During this period, Jains avoid any sort of violence and consumption of green vegetables. Slaughtering of animals is thus prohibited on compassionate grounds during the 10-day Paryushan festival.
The court noted with dismay that, “Compassion for living creatures does not have to be only a few days but should be for the entire year.” Justices T.S. Thakur and Kurian Joseph then emphasized that, “There has to be the spirit of tolerance and anything should not be thrust on a particular class.” This was in reference to attachment of compassion for animals on certain festivals.
The Mumbai meat ban during the Jain fasting period has the potential to fight against the spirit of tolerance. It is feared that the debate will ostracize the Jain community from the Indian social symmetry. Uddhav Thackeray, the editor-in-chief of Saamna, wrote a belligerent editorial telling the Jain community to rein in their “fanaticism.” He went on to say that imposing food habits on Mumbai residents was “a form of violence.” The editorial questioned the wisdom of imposing a meat ban in Mumbai, which is a growing metropolitan with diverse inhabitants, calling it irrational and defying modern retail logic.
A panelist during a televised debate moderated by TIMES NOW’s editor-in-chief, Arnab Goswami, said that the Mumbai meat ban will heighten intolerance against the Jain community. She argued that the Mumbai meat ban “marks Jains out as immigrants suitable for victimization.” This, according to her, will lead to more intolerance and social antagonism.
The Jain community is unmoved. They are of the view that the tradition, which has been carried out since time immemorial, has been politicized. “Meat bans on selected days in Mumbai have been there since 1964, but why the protests this year?” read a tweet from Asmakhan Pathan. A delegation of Jain adherents insisted that the Supreme Court decision to support the High Court order was wrong. To them, the Mumbai meat ban was a reasonable constraint during the fasting period. After all, the tradition has been observed perennially without any uproar. In a statement, the Jain community asked, “Then suddenly what happened this year? How has it happened this year? How has it erupted into this controversy and who is behind it all?” It is clear that the Mumbai meat ban is testing the spirit of tolerance in India.
By Shepherd Mutsvara
Indian Express: Mumbai Meat Ban: Thackeray Cousins Slam Jains, Revive Gujarati v Marathi Debate
The Wiire: Ban of Meat Cannot Be Imposed on People
NDTV: Meat Ban Not an Issue to be Forced Down People’s Throats: Supreme Court
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