A recent judgement on animal sacrifice in Tripura Sundari Temple during the sacred period of Navratri has touched a raw nerve of the Hindus. There is a sense of dejavu; as if it is Sabarimala II. However, reading the judgement in detail gave me a totally different world view. It is not about rights of Hindus, but rights of animals. I thank the honourable courts for opening new avenues for reforms in the Bharatiya society.
Animal sacrifice has been a part of Hindu rituals since aeons; but they are giving it up slowly over ages as a process of self-reform that Hindus are adept at. Now, it survives in very small pockets in a few places like Nepal and some parts of North East. This too would have been given up in coming years, I am sure.
It is the justification of this ban under Section 21 and quoting various Articles of the Indian Constitution to justify the decision that made me think hard and read the judgement carefully. I am not even getting into dishonouring of merger agreement with the princely state Tripura with Indian Union. After all, Indian Union stopped Privy Purse too which was also part of merger agreement. I will not take a legalist view as I am no lawyer, but would make a few observations.
Call to Semitise Hindu Dharma
This judgement again shows that our educated elite do not or cannot differentiate between religions of One Book, One God, One Prophet and a Dharmic tradition that has multiple books, multiple gods and multiple traditions; all under the umbrella of Hindu dharma. It seems that Constitution (supporting plural republican traditions) is being used to squeeze this beautiful multidimensional plural dharmic tradition into a monotheist, semetic exclusivist framework.
From what I could understand from the judgement, Courts expect, almost wish, that Hindus organise a ‘Kumbh Mela’ where all the saints of all the sects come together and hammer out a religion that is as semetic, exclusivist and rigid as Abrahamic religions and declare One Book, One set of traditions and practices and claim that they are immutable. That they should repudiate the self-reforming and self-evolving Dharmic traditions and declare that they shall refuse to reform from that day.
Dual Approach to Animal Sacrifice
The judgement says, “Sacrifice of an animal in a temple, not being an essential part of religion, is also violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.” It states, “The state submitted that the practice of animal sacrifice is as per the ‘long accepted procedure of Hindu rituals of the Tantrik method of worship of the Das Maha Vidya”.… however, “sacrifice in Mata Tripureswari temple and other temples on certain occasions, lacks the essence of economic, commercial, political or secular character and hence, the action of the State in offering such an animal sacrifice is neither permissible under the Indian Constitution nor any statute.” Clearly secularism is the sole responsibility of the Hindus. Even if they claim is a custom as per the traditions of respective sampradayas, it is not valid.
Responding to the petition comparing animal sacrifice during Eid to the sacrifice during Navami, the honourable court observes - …issue of animal sacrifice by the minority community (Muslims) on the occasion of Bakri Eid already stands settled in the judgement in Mohd. Hanif Quareshi and others vs State of Bihar. The bench made these observations, “Which religion or community mandates infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on an animal? Which religion prescribes that physical or mental pain or suffering should not be eliminated in the pre-slaughter stage? Which religion would want its followers not to treat animal with compassion, care or humane approach? And above all, which religion would allow itself to be shackled to dogma, superstition and unfounded beliefs so as not to reform and be in tune with the changing times in pursuit of Constitutional goals and morality?” Is it an appeal to Muslims to reform? I wonder. Or does it mean that courts want to introduce some laws to lessen the pain an animal goes through during halaal?
The court rightly points out, “... if the substratum of the ritual animal sacrifice is taken away, the ceremony of performance of puja cannot be said to have been defiled or the right to practise and profess religions, obstructed or hindered or diminished in any manner.” This is the most dynamic declaration in recent times.
I think, no religion will lose its vitality or get defiled if it gives up animal or insect or bird sacrifice; whether it is a goat or a camel or a turkey or fish or cockroach. Thus, this is a wonderful universal declaration for giving up inhuman religious practices by all.
Primacy of Prevention of Cruelty Act over Religious Beliefs
The Bench (in this case) “Calls upon every citizen of India to exhibit compassion for all living creatures and develop a temper of humanism towards all wildlife, and the framers of the Constitution had desired to inter alia, develop a spirit of compassion and humanism, abjure violence and also exhibit the same towards all living beings… Religious practice based on a tradition cannot override Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The Court says, “Its language is simple and unambiguously clear. It does not exempt applicability of any one of the provisions of the Act. All that is described is that if an animal is killed in a manner required by the religion of any community, then such killing could not be construed to be an offence. It only exempts from the culpability of an offence.” Thus, judgement provides an escape route for defending sacrifice of non-humans by other religions. Hindu sacrifice rituals do not fall under this exemption.
Now, we are on slippery grounds. Does this statement mean Islam mandates infliction of pain on an animal with slow painful butchering of millions of animals with due religious process? I may say that it implies that Islam does not want its followers to treat animals with compassion and is shackled to dogma, superstition or unfounded beliefs and refuses to reform? Does it mean the poor turkey roasted and killed in millions during ‘thanks giving’ shows that Christians have no compassion and humanity? Does it mean their respective Constitutions allow them not to honour animal lives?
Protecting Children from Exposure to Violence
The court’s observation on how slaughtering affects children is an insightful observation and all child psychologists would be happy that effect of graphic violence on children is brought out in its horrific details - Quoting 51A (i) courts say, “…A child witnessing continuous violence towards animals may fail to inculcate moral values of showing an act of love, kindness and compassion towards animals. Animal Sacrifice in temples (but not in other places, may I ask?) is not pleasing to the eyes and this inhuman religious practice in the name of religion has a definite impact on the psyche of a child.”
I hope these observations are taken up seriously by the law makers and a law be made to stop Shias from perpetrating violence on self by adults and on children during Muharram; and also a law to stop children from witnessing ‘qurbani’ during Bakri-Eid. We have seen umpteen videos on social media how children cry when their favourite goat is sacrificed. We have seen children being taught to slaughter by training them on toys for this purpose.
The Vegetarian’s Manifesto
The most dynamic part of the judgement is almost a call for ‘vegetarianism’. I could call it a ‘Vegetarian’s Manifesto.’ And this is what appeals to me most as a vegetarian. I hope the government uses this great humanitarian judgement to introduce vegetarianism in the Indian society.
The judgment exhorts people to abjure violence against animals, birds, insects etc. It quotes Jallikattu ruling. “Right to life now stands extended to all living being.. .. The word “Life” in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is wide enough to include every living organism be it humans, animals, insects or birds. Do I see a ban on pesticides enforced by courts in coming times? Do I take it that this part overrides all other religious rights as it has the backing of Constitution that is apparently above all others?
Court quotes the Jallikattu decision … Deprivation of life has to be as per procedure established by law. Thus, it is pertinent in this regard that sacrificing of animal and taking away their life also has to be in accordance with due process of law. Sacrifice of animal in the manner and nature with which we are concerned, in the garb of religion, of which we are of the opinion, is nowhere allowed in law. Only such practices can avail protection under Article 25(1) which amounts to an essential and integral part of religion. In Jallikattu (supra) it stands observed that animals also have life which also has to be protected under the purview of the said Article.” Does it mean animals being mistreated beyond Jallikattu traditions are outside the purview of the Constitution? The court gives a lecture on preserving nature, all living beings. It is so beautifully written that it touched my core. I am sure that it will also affect all nature loving environmentalists and meat eaters so strongly that they might drop their knives forthwith.
It declares, “Apart from rights which are fundamental in nature, Part IVA of the Indian Constitution casts duty upon every citizen under Article 51A(g) with moral obligation to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures. Humans owe a duty to exhibit love and compassion towards animals with an empathy and understanding of the sufferings of animals who are speechless and voiceless. These definitely are signs of a civilised society. Animals also breathe as humans and are sometimes said to have the same soul as humans. In our considered view, sacrifice of an animal, based on superstition or not being an essential part of practice of religion in a temple is absolutely an antithesis of compassion.”
As a secular court, the honourable judges’ observations should be valid for all, irrespective of religion. However, the lightening of knowledge strikes only the Hindus. After all, it is they who coined the shloka, “Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu niramaya’, they in their shanti mantra pronounce, “Shantihi dwipada, shantihi chatushpada”—Peace be on living beings with two feet (humans, birds etc) and four legged (animals). Sorry, I don’t know where centipedes fit, probably in the earlier shloka of sarve bhavantu sukhinaha.
This is a judgement that empowers non-violent, vegan and green lifestyle that can save us from global warming and related disasters. It should be cited for introducing various legislations that can implement the court’s observations in its true spirit and be implemented universally; irrespective of caste, creed or religion. This sacrifice of Hindu traditions will then be worthwhile and can truly bring about revolutionary changes in our environment and social life.
(The writer is a Mumbai-based columnist & author
of several books )