Of The Freedom To Revel And To Abstain

Of The Freedom To Revel And To Abstain

The Supreme Court of India has ordered a closure of all slaughter houses and eateries serving non vegetarian food for nine days, starting 15th August, in some states. This has been done in deference to the wishes of the Jain community during the holy period of their Paryushan Parva.

A two member bench, consisting of Justice HK Sema and Justice Markandey Katju, while passing this order observed that though ‘the order did affect the fundamental right to carry out a trade or profession, but it was not unreasonable and was within the ambit of Article 19(2) which provides for reasonable restriction for maintaining public order and peace among other things.’

The Court also asked the public in general ‘not to be over sensitive and touchy about a short restriction when it is being done out of respect for the sentiments of a particular section of society.’ Yet, the common wo(man) down the street is wondering ‘ why shpuld anyone’s business suffer because of a religious festival in some community? Is it necessary to let others starve and suffer to show respect to one particular sect?’; or ‘how can one hurt one finger of the hand to please the others?’

It seems that the Apex Court of a secular country believes in the Orwellian dictum of ‘all men are equal in a democracy, but some are more equal than others.’ The Jains are a very rich, powerful and influential community of India, which is laudable indeed. But does their affluence give them the right to force their diktat on the not so powerful? And does this nine day moratorium mean that the community will lose its religion for the rest of the year.

This order could very well open a hornet’s nest. India is a country of religious festivities. We celebrate some festival or the other almost every day. And most of us do exercise some control over our senses by abstaining from certain things/actions periodically without offending the free spirit of others. Promoting vegetarianism is alright but gagging the taste buds in the name of creating peace and harmony is ludicrous. Things would not stop here. The 30 crore Muslims of India may now feel it within their rights to demand that the entire nation observe fast during their holy month of Ramzan every year. Not only this, they may also ask for a total ban on any merrymaking and any type of festivities during this austere period (as happens in some orthodox Arab countries). The Hindus would not like to be left behind and ask for similar draconian restrictions during the nine days period of ‘navratras’, held twice every year.

Will this create peace and harmony or a religious divide in a country already torn apart by factionalism and communalism? By succeeding in getting this order passed, the Jains have come out as an intolerant community, which cares only for itself. It does not care if people will suffer financially and gastronomically and find this stupid rule as a violation of their freedom. We should not forget that all communities are free to follow their rites and rituals as long as they do not infringe upon the rights of the others.

The Supreme Court seems to be too eager to please the religious sentiments of the miniscule Jain population of our country. Surely it would not be averse to the pressing health needs of millions of Indians and would not hesitate to pass similar strictures against smoking and tobacco consumption which has proven medical ill effects and is the bane of the country, nay the world.

The Court would render a great service to humanity if it would likewise stop the sale and consumption of all tobacco products for a nine day period, to start with. It might affect the business of multinationals, but surely this would be a small price to pay for a noble cause impacting the health and well being of all castes, communities and religions alike, and not just pampering the ludicrous sentiments of a particular section of society.

Shobha Shukla

(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS), has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP, and teaches Physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. Email: shobha@citizen-news.org, website: www.citizen-news.org)

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