There was never any beef or mutton controversy in Jammu and Kashmir. The Hindu Maharaja of J&K had banned the sale of beef in the state around 80 years ago. Since there was no democracy at that time, there was no question of expression of displeasure or discontent. The Muslims of Kashmir were peace-loving and were not obsessive about their Muslim identity. They believed in Sufism. They never wanted to pick a quarrel with their Hindu brothers.

I lived in J&K for almost four decades and seldom did I meet any Kashmiri Muslim who was fond of beef. The Kashmiri ‘wazwaan’ usually has mutton as the staple. I had heard that beef was available in a few shops of downtown Srinagar and in remote areas of Anantanag and Baramula but well-to-do Kashmiris shunned beef. These shops were frequented only by poorer sections of Kashmiris and the jawans of the security forces hailing from Kerala and Tamil Nadu (mostly Christians and Muslims).

When I asked Kashmiri Muslims why they did not relish beef, whereas the Muslims of UP, Bihar, Bengal, Bangladesh and Pakistan were very fond of the meat, they told me that Kashmiris had mostly converted to Islam from having been high-caste Shaivite Brahmins whereas Muslims of other areas could have been converted from lower-caste Hindus.

They said that it was difficult for them to cut themselves off completely from the traditions of their Hindu ancestors and therefore beef remained a big “no,no” for them even now. The situation changed slightly after 1990 when Kashmiri Muslims became a little identity conscious and waged a war of independence against India, instigated by our neighbour.

I found the people of Jammu to be totally anti-beef, although the lower classes did eat pork. The higher class Hindus relish mutton, chicken and eggs, but a large percentage of them, specially the women folk, are vegetarian.

Many Hindus of Jammu are from the Jain sect or the Vaishnavite sect and they say “no” to non-vegetarian food. Followers of Vaishno Mataji usually avoid meat, fish etc. The Sikhs are usually non-vegetarian but they don’t eat beef. The Hindus are so against beef that they avoid using the word in conversation. Due to ignorance and simplicity I sometimes used the word and I was advised to say,”woh cheez” (that thing) instead of beef. Sometimes I was advised to rinse my mouth with soap water for just uttering the word!

I could realise that half of J&K was deeply against beef eating—perhaps that was why the Maharaja could ban it easily. However, now that the Supreme Court has observed that no community should dictate to another what they should eat and when, and that vegetarian religious beliefs cannot be forced down the throats of meat-eating communities, the time has come for the government to revisit the archaic anti-beef law of J&K.

Perhaps it ought to be abolished in the modern age and the public preference should be the priority as in all the advanced nations of the world.

This controversy will appear to be so ridiculous to people living in Europe, America, Australia, China, Japan, Russia where most people eat beef and all other kinds of meat. When we visit the markets in these countries, we realise that people have an unlimited choice of meats. If you are tired of eating chicken, you could try duck and partridge; if you are tired of fish you could try lobster, eel or crab; if you are tired of mutton and beef you could try pork. In Australia, you could try kangaroo or crocodile meat. People of the world will never understand our strange controversies.

Many states of India like Maharashtra and Haryana have come under BJP rule. BJP is a party which is dominated by Northern and Western Hindus. In Northern and Western India Hindus are quite often vegetarians being influenced by Jain and Vaishnavite philosophy. The situation is entirely different in Eastern and Southern India.

Our BJP leaders are, therefore, under a wrong impression. There is no direct correlation between vegetarianism and Hinduism. If meat is banned on Navratras in Bengal there will be a revolt. Navratras is the main festive season in Bengal, Orissa, Assam when people eat non-vegetarian delicacies. Nobody usually eats vegetarian food on these days. If BJP starts banning non-vegetarian food, people of eastern and southern India and also the north east will never allow the party even a toe hold in these areas.

Meat eating in Hinduism has been codified in the Mahabharata in the chapter where Bhishma Pitamaha (the grand old patriarch) gives his sermon on “Mansahaar vidhi” (norms of meat eating or tamsik bhojan). He advises that meat is essential for people who do manual work, pregnant women and people convalescing from serious illnesses. People who are engaged in the field of learning and worship have been advised to avoid such food as far as possible. There is no ban on meat eating even on festive days. The governments of Maharashtra and Haryana should do some soul searching. Fortunately the Supreme court has already corrected these erring governments.

The writer, a retired IAS officer, was former Financial Commissioner, Jammu and Kashmir.