Guest post by GITA JAYARAJ
New shocks seem to await non-vegetarians almost daily, now. At a popular supermarket chain in Besant Nagar, one of the go-to places in namma Chennai, there seems nothing unusual on the evening of November 11. The floor is littered with stuff as the young shop assistants squat in the narrow aisles trying to stack the packets on the shelves; or laze in small clusters discussing workplace politics, oblivious of the customers milling around.
Seems like a normal evening. Heading towards the billing counter, I decide at the last minute to pick up some chicken. The young girl at the fresh-ground coffee counter, next to the fresh chicken refrigerator, giggles nervously as I open it. “Sale of chicken not permitted today madam”, she tells me hesitantly in Tamil. I am puzzled, has the beef ban in some states been extended to cover chicken as well in all states?
“Jain festival, madam, Mahavir Jayanti or something”, she murmurs, “but please ask the manager.” It registers only then that the meat storage freezers have newspapers stuck on all of them, to hide their content. I ask the checkout assistant and she confirms it’s true. They have been ordered not to bill any non-veg item today. She advises me to talk to the manager if I have any questions. So I go over and the manager confirms this diktat and tells me there’s a notice from the City Corporation. I ask him if this is the first time he has received such an order from the government. No, perhaps six months ago, he recalls, he had received a similar order.
Suddenly he notices a White immigrant opening one of the freezers and rushes to tell her that she cannot be sold meat today. Meekly she backs off. If she has lived here even a couple of months, she has probably heard of people eating meat on certain days of the week and not others. Perhaps it defies logic and is probably hard enough to understand, but to have shops and the government itself ensuring that it is not consumed through any accident of being sold, must make the mind boggle. She walks away and I watch amazed that this can actually happen.
I follow the manager asking him whether it had something to do with the new government since it’s happened twice already within the last year. He looks at me as if I am from another planet and with exaggerated patience replies that this government is not new.
In Tamil Nadu any reference to the government cannot go beyond the state level. I clarify that I mean the government at the Center, ‘leading the witness’ on. He loses interest immediately and declares that there’s a notice outside from the Chennai Corporation and waves his hand in the general direction of the entrance.
The TASMAC -Tamil Nadu lingo for state controlled alcohol dispensing outlets – is open on Mahaveer Jayanti. (In any case it is not Jayanti, it is Nirvan according to the circular). The Google God of Searches shows that the Jayanti was over in April, which was when the earlier circular/order from the Chennai Corporation that the manager referred to, had possibly been received. At that time, most of the newspapers had reported it on the city pages. By this time, it seems to have been normalized. The search also throws up the judgment in an interesting case in the Madras High Court – K.Nazir Basha vs State Of Tamil Nadu on 6 August, 2014. The judgment refers to an earlier case and rules in favor of the State by placing reliance upon the decision of the Supreme Court in Hinsa Virodhak Sangh vs. Mirzapur Moti Kuresh Jamat & Others, (CDJ 2008 SC 503).
The Hinsa Virodhak Sangh is based in Ahmedabad, where a large number of Jains live one presumes. One can perhaps see where a request like this is coming from, even while not entirely agreeing that this is the best way to go about it. But there appears to be no evidence to such a request to the State of TN from the community of Jains who live in the state. So why only the Jains? We do not read or hear about the ban on sale of pork around Id for instance. So whose causes does the state champion and whose does it ignore in matters such as this? These choices and orders may be very telling.
How far will bans go? Many Jains do not eat any root vegetables either, so will the state ban all of those as well? Already many airlines offer Jain meals as part of inflight dining. Will these airlines also be banned from serving non-veg and root vegetables such as onion, garlic and potatoes to non-Jain passengers on these days? This is a slippery slope for the state; and sermonizing on these matters is best left to the clergy, however tempting it may be for the judiciary to take up the role.
A rough translation of this government order would be as follows:
Dept of Public Health
This is to announce to the public that in anticipation of the occasion of Mahaveer Nirvan on 11.11.2015, according to Govt Order 122/1980 dated 23.01.1980, establishments that sell mutton, beef and other non-vegetarian items will remain closed and will not sell these items; and grocers and department stores are also banned from selling frozen (preserved) meat.
Chief Secretary/ Corporation Commissioner
On the drive back I wonder how much further the State will go to micro-manage and monitor things that are sold and bought in shops and stocked and eaten within homes. You have a violent mob in Dadri barging into Akhlaq’s home and lynching him on mere suspicion of his having eaten beef (which forensic tests later proved was mutton). So, on the one hand, you have a state that turns a blind eye and even condones mob vigilantism related to cow slaughter and the banning of certain meats; yet, on the other, the demand for a ban or prohibition of alcohol (state controlled) leads to a swift crackdown and charges of sedition against folk singer Kovan (who since then has been released on bail).
The Dadri lynching, the awards wapsi, the Bihar drubbing should all be lessons for state governments that incitement of some for the gratification of others is not the way forward for a modern, democratic nation aspiring to greatness. Regional parties in Tamil Nadu rose to power on the back of Dravidian politics and ideas of identity, representation, and self-respect, stubbornly keeping national level political parties out. Now they must ask themselves why certain minorities matter over others in a state that is predominantly meat-eating. Is it for the State to force social harmony on one hand while inciting divisiveness on the other? Most communities will work out the social harmony by themselves. The State needs to step in only to ensure that individuals and political parties, for their own petty reasons, do not up the ante.