Tamil Nadu

Resistance on the ground

Print edition : June 23, 2017

R. Sooraj, the IIT Madras research scholar who was attacked for taking part in a beef fest, after treatment in Chennai. Photo: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

The battle against the Centre’s notification banning the sale of cattle for slaughter gets a fillip in Tamil Nadu.

AN interim stay by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on the Centre’s controversial notification banning the sale of cattle for slaughter and the attack on a research scholar of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras for participating in a beef-eating festival on the institute premises, both on May 30, have provided a fillip to the battle for beef in Tamil Nadu.

A few members of the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle at IIT Madras organised a beef fest on the institute premises as a symbolic protest against the Centre’s ban on May 28. A. Sooraj (36), a research scholar of the Department of Aerospace Engineering, took part in the event and wrote about it on social media. He went to a students’ hostel mess for lunch on May 30 when a group of students reportedly led by one Manish Kumar Singh, a postgraduate student of the Department of Ocean Engineering, confronted him. Manish asked him why he should come to a vegetarian mess serving Jain food after eating beef. An altercation ensued and Sooraj was attacked. He suffered serious injuries in the right eye, head and shoulders and was rushed to a private hospital. He was bleeding profusely when he was brought to the hospital.

Informed sources said the incident happened around 2 p.m. when the victim was having lunch with one of his friends. A friend of Sooraj said that the assaulter was said to be a sympathiser of right-wing ideology on the campus. (IIT Madras has been witness to clashes between right-wing and progressive ideologies since the institute derecognised the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (see “Derecognising dissent”, Frontline, June 26, 2015).) According to reports, eight students, including Manish, have been booked under Sections 147, 341, 323 and 506 (1) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The police also slapped two cases against Sooraj under Sections 324 and 341. A senior police officer told Frontline that an investigation was on.

Abhinav Surya, a final-year mechanical engineering student, told mediapersons that there was severe damage to Sooraj’s right eye. “We have urged the Dean to initiate strong action against those who attacked Sooraj. A social media campaign has been launched in support of Sooraj,” he said.

Addressing a press conference on June 1, Abhinav said that the attack on Sooraj was an uncivilised act, an alien factor to the academic environment of a higher education institution such as IIT Madras. Stating that all progressive forces on the campus had united after the assault, he said that Sooraj had undergone an operation for his eye injury. Of the eight students who reportedly attacked Sooraj at the mess, only a few could be identified. The IIT management was backing right-wing ideology within the campus and stifling the voices of progressive forces and this was a threat to the higher education environment, he said. To a question, he clarified that the beef fest was held at Himalayan Lawns, a common venue inside the campus, just like any other event.

Barring the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), major political parties such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the CPI, the Congress, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) expressed their resentment against the Centre’s notification.

The DMK organised a demonstration in Chennai and its working president, M.K. Stalin, visited the injured student in the hospital. But unlike its counterparts in Kerala and West Bengal, where the Chief Ministers have stridently opposed the notification, the Tamil Nadu government has been maintaining a stoic silence that irritates activists and others.

The incident evoked a public outcry from various quarters. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, while condemning the attack, also requested his Tamil Nadu counterpart, Edappadi K. Palaniswami, to take appropriate action. Incidentally, beef is not banned in Tamil Nadu although the latest notification indirectly imposes a ban. (see “Matter of choice”, Frontline, October 30, 2015).

According to reports, the two-member Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, comprising Justices M.V. Muralidaran and C.V. Karthikeyan, after hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) petition from S. Selvagomathy, a social activist, lawyer and managing trustee of the Madurai-based Justice Shivaraj V. Patil Foundation for Social Legal Education and Development, found that the notification was against Section 28 of the parent Act, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act of 1960, which specifically states that “it shall not be an offence to kill any animal in a manner required by the religion of any community”. The bench issued a four-week interim stay on the notification.

(In a similar judgment in March 2016, the Madurai Bench pointed out that eating beef was not an offence. Justices S. Manikumar and C.T. Selvam, while dismissing a PIL petition that sought the eviction of beef-eating shopkeepers on the “girivalam” (circumambulation) pathway around the Sri Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple at Palani in Dindigul district, observed that nowhere in the IPC was it stated that eating non-vegetarian food was an offence.)

Claiming that the PCA Act permits the slaughter of animals as well as the sale of animals for slaughter, the 45-year-old petitioner, who is a vegetarian by choice, said that the Centre had no authority to extend its rule-making power, under the enactment, to the extent of banning the sale of animals in a market for the purpose of slaughter. Hence, she contended that the Rules 22(b)(iii) and 22(e) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulations of Livestock Markets) Rules 2017 notified by the Centre on May 23 banning the sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets “offend the right to freedom of religion guaranteed under Article 25 and the protection of interests of minorities under Article 29 of the Constitution”.

She noted that the slaughtering of animals for food and for offering as sacrifice in religious places were part and parcel of the cultural identity of most communities. She stated that prohibiting the sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets amounted to interfering with the right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business as guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution. “Therefore, by the impugned regulations, a complete ban has been imposed on the trade of sale or purchase of animals defined as cattle and it is in violation of the right to livelihood under Article 21 of the Constitution,” she pointed out.

“The right to choice of food [non-vegetarian or vegetarian] is a part of the right to personal liberty, conscience and privacy. By imposing a ban on slaughter of animals for food, the citizens with a choice to eat the flesh of such animals would be deprived of such food and it violates the right to food, privacy and personal liberty,” she noted and added that the issues concerning markets, fairs and preservation or protection and improvement of livestock fell within entries 28 and 15 of the State list under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution and thus only the State legislature was empowered to enact laws and frame statutory rules on those subjects.

The rules define cattle as “bulls, bullocks, cows, buffalos, steers, heifers and calves and camels”, she pointed out.

Meanwhile, more outfits have started hitting the streets in protest against the beef ban and the attack on the IIT campus. Members of the Students’ Federation of India, the Democratic Youth Federation of India, the Revolutionary Students Youth Federation, the Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam and other outfits staged agitations.

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