Thursday, November 13, 2014



By Amba Charan Vashishth

Note: In the first place, the writer wishes to stress that he himself is totally vegetarian but has written this piece only because animal sacrifice ban amounts to discrimination on grounds of religion

 On September 1st 2014 the Himachal Pradesh High Court directed: "No person throughout the State of Himachal Pradesh shall sacrifice any animal in any place of public religious worship, including all lands and building near such places of religious worship, which are ordinarily connected for religious purposes or in any ceremony/Yagya/ congregation or procession connected with any religious worship in a public street." The Hon'ble Judge also ordered all district collectors, SPs, and other officers to ensure the ban is effectively enforced.(

The HC direction is consequent to a PIL and not a fall-out of any outcry — written, verbal or violent — displayed by any section of the people of any area or by devotees of any place of worship.

The Hon'ble High Court must have come to this considered judgement in all its wisdom. Yet, the conclusion seems to have been arrived at in an ex parte manner and other aspects of the matter concerning one's freedom of faith, belief and religion seem to have got overlooked.

Since times immemorial, in one form or the other, animal — and even human — sacrifice to propitiate a deity or in the course of some social or religious ritual had been in vogue all over the world, India included.   As human race advanced into the present phase of our civilisation, human sacrifice was socially and legally banned almost all over the world. Yet, some reports do continue to be reported in the media from different parts of the world.
Animal sacrifice for religious and social celebrations has, however, continued unabated, though their number and frequency is sharply going down each day. Although feudalism and the age of rajas-maharajas is over, yet animal sacrifice in honour of the exalted visit of an erstwhile ruler to a village continues even today. People offer goats etc. to their family or clan deity on any happy occasion — a marriage, fulfilment of a wish or even for a social celebration, victory in election or success in a competitive examination for a high post.

"Subject to public order, morality and health", Article 25 of the Constitution of India, granting freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion says that "all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion".  Animal sacrifice in pursuance of any religious faith or belief cannot in any way offend the "public order, morality and health".

It must be noted that animal sacrifice as a part of religious belief or as an offering is never a public celebration but restricted to personal or family gathering. It is not done for a public applause. Moreover, the sacrificed animal is served to the invitees as a prashad. It is a case of feasting at social or religious occasions which can never be construed as a crime by any reckoning. 

Interestingly  — and surprisingly — axing the neck of animals while slaughtering them for public consumption is not a crime; it does not attract even the provisions of the Cruelty to Animals Act. 

It is in this background that the panchayat of the presiding deities of different areas in Kullu and other districts of Himachal have taken cognizance of the verdict and decided to file a review petition in the High Court. The matter has come before the Supreme Court of India.

At the same time, it needs to be understood that personal/individual faith or belief is never rational; it is just emotional, blind and unexplainable. A stone lying on the roadside for one individual may just be a pebble but for the other it can be a god incarnate. To pronounce who is right and who wrong is well nigh impossible because it is difficult to pass judgement on a matter of one's or a group's faith and belief. It has to be respected and not injured or laughed at. No person has a right to hurt anybody's sentiments, reasonable or otherwise.

There is only a hairline difference between animal "sacrifice" and "slaughter" as its meat in both the cases is consumed by human beings. In the former case, it is a prashad shared collectively by the society with religious sentiment while, in the latter, it is a business and commercial exploitation involving the pleasure of the tick of the tongue. The place for sacrifice is specified and earmarked away from direct public gaze unless, of course, if some people volunteer to witness it on their own. Slaughter houses too are public places for all intents and purposes. Therefore, banning animal sacrifice only "in any place of public worship" connected with one's religion, belief and faith and, at the same time, allowing it for community or social celebrations and exploitation, like visit of an erstwhile ruler, present elected ruler or for family or social celebrations directly amount to an act of discrimination on grounds of religion in violation of Articicle 25.

Maybe, there is a need for reform to ensure that the place earmarked for animal sacrifice is hygienic, secluded, away from general public gaze so that it does not offend others. But banning animal sacrifice motivated by religious sentiments and allowing animal slaughter for commercial and social purposes surely amounts to an act of discrimination on grounds of religion and belief. 
The writer is a Delhi based political analyst

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