Seeking to draw a distinction between “culture” and “tradition”, Maharashtra Advocate General Shrihari Aney told the Bombay High Court on Thursday that not allowing the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks by Muslims during a religious event cannot be considered violation of their culture. Many things seen as part of culture are not really culture but customs, he said.
“There is a difference between culture and traditions or customs… If bulls and bullocks were extinct, would a good Muslim not aspire to go to heaven?” said Aney, who concluded his arguments defending the state’s ban on sale and consumption of beef.
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On the point of the law affecting someone, the AG said: “It is not our intention to harass, but it is a by-product if you are eating beef… The stand is that if someone is found in possession of flesh of cow, bull or bullock, he or she may be called to ascertain if it is conscious possession or not.”
Earlier, advocate Gayatri Singh, counsel for the Indian Union Muslim League, claimed that the ban impacts the Muslim community and its religious practice of slaughter. She said the law was brought in through the back door to favour a religion. Under the new law, in addition to cows, sale of bulls and bullocks for slaughter has been made a crime.
In an affidavit submitted before the court earlier, the state government had said that eating habits of a group of persons do not make that group a distinct “cultural class” entitled to protection under Article 29 (protection of interests of minorities).
On Thursday, the court raised questions pertaining to Section 5D (relating to possession of flesh of cows, bulls or bullocks), asking if possession of “lawfully slaughtered” meat could be made an offence in Maharashtra. “If a person gets meat from Goa which is lawfully slaughtered and puts it in somebody’s house, then what,” asked Justice A S Oka.
The AG said that in some parts of the country, slaughter of cows, bulls or bullocks was legal, but possession of flesh of cow was illegal in Maharashtra. “You can’t export it (flesh) from Maharashtra,” he clarified. He further said the other provisions cannot exist without 5D. “You can put a table outside the state border and eat it if you want,” said Aney, on a lighter note.
The court asked if the state government wanted it to read down Sections 5C and 5D (mere possession) to conscious possession. The AG said it was up to the court to take a decision on this.
Aney said the state had not made the law to prevent people from eating beef, but to protect bovine animals and organise scientific agriculture. “It is easy to see cows, bulls, bullocks in a remote sense, as someone who gives milk. But they have significance in rural areas. It is a fact of life and the state recognises it,” he said, adding that it was alright “not to pamper the pleasure of your taste buds”.