What transpired within one month at Jawaharlal Nehru University has stirred a sensitive debate between the acceptable and the blasphemous. A few students who planned to organise a beef and pork festival on September 28 on campus quickly invited opposition from the right-wing groups, ‘forcing’ the Rashtriya Goraksha Sena (RGS) to file a PIL against it. Result. The Delhi High Court ordered the police to ensure that no beef and pork festival takes place in the central government university.
“The JNU and Delhi Police are directed to ensure that no such beef and pork festival takes place on September 28 or in future,” said a bench of Acting Chief Justice AK Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw. On the same day, one student was suspended and three were issued showcause notices by JNU for their involvement in planning the festival.
It all began with the announcement of the festival on campus, followed by distribution of posters inviting students to a debate titled “Why Beef and Pork Festival in JNU,” whose speakers included professors from the University and Prof Kancha Illaiah, author of the book Why Am I not a Hindu. “This was done to debate the freedom we have as citizens. I don’t know what grounds they have banned the festival. Beef as such is not banned in Delhi. What’s banned is cow slaughter and agricultural cattle killing. And whatever beef is available in Delhi is all as per the government’s regulation,” says YS Alone, professor, JNU. He says, “This (the ban) is not good for a democratic country.”
However, others disagree. Advocate Vimal Wadhawan, counsel, Rashtriya Goraksha Sena says, “The festivals would have created an eminent public disorder at the campus and there were two angles to it. It was hurting religious sentiments. Then, it was against the law.
According to the Delhi Agricultural Cattle Prevention Act, cow slaughter is prohibited, transporting its flesh is prohibited and even the possession of cow flesh is prohibited. If somebody is found in possession of cow flesh, there will be legalities.” He adds that as per the Delhi Agricultural Cattle Prevention Act, 1994, there is provision for five years of imprisonment and Rs 10,000 as fine for storing or serving beef. The PIL stated that the festival’s organisers were “Maoists and anti-nationals.” Wadhawan adds, “Students at the campus are misguided. We have proof that the students are misguided. The issue was brought up in the parliament sometime back.”
Interestingly, the organisers and students put across a different point. “The aim of the festival was to emphasise on the food diversity and culture of India and also to challenge the Hindu fascist ideas of a monolithic national food culture which is primarily a Hindu idea. None of us are Maoists, nor are we anti-nationals. In fact, that has nothing to do with this campaign which is challenging religious fascism and also caste system. We have gone through these debates and they are blankly branding us with these names,” says Premjish Achari, a research scholar at JNU and campaign supporter. While students and organisers are planning to take the campaign to another level and engage people in discussions and debates, the right-wing parties and the Rashtriya Guraksha Sena is planning to ‘guide’ the ‘mis guided’ students.
While Rohit Chahal, State Secretary, Delhi, Akhil Bhartiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, says, “We have opposed this campaign everywhere. They tried to do something similar in Osmania University, Hyderabad, as well; we protested against it. In fact, some of our workers also had a tiff with the local police. If something similar happens on the campus here, we will oppose it. We are absolutely against this festival or campaign and if we have to do something aggressive to stop it, we will do it. If this happens on campus, the administration will be responsible.” Wadhwan adds, the RGS wants a peaceful solution. “We are moving for preventive measures in the form of preaching. We have to teach them democracy. We are ready to guide them constitutionally and if JNU authorities do not permit us then we will carry out this conference outside of the campus before September 28,” he says.
The Quran forbids meat from animals that die of themselves, blood, the meat of swine (porcine animals, pigs), and animals dedicated to other than Allah (either undedicated or dedicated to idols) but a person is not guilty of sin in a situation where the lack of any alternative creates an undesired necessity to consume that which is otherwise unlawful. (Quran 2:173). Meanwhile, the issue has led to a debate on the sensitivity of Indian food culture. Frozen buffalo meat is available in the city. But was a festival really necessary?