Tuesday, August 02, 2005

meatless days

just read this, in today's paper

AHMEDABAD, AUGUST 2: They have won the legal battle to keep meat shops open during the eight-day Jain holy period of Paryushan, but for the sake of communal harmony, butchers in the city have decided to down shutters during that period.

‘‘We welcome the high court verdict that it is illegal for the authorities to enforce closure of our shops during Paryushan. But like every year, this year too we will not conduct any business during the period,’’ said Mustaq Syed, who owns the Star Meat Shop and five slaughter-houses.

The Qureshi Jamaat, an organisation of traditional butchers and slaughterers, has appealed to meat shop owners to respect Jain sentiments and keep their shops closed.

‘‘It’s a request, and we hope everyone agrees to it,’’ says Rafiq Qureshi, who is associated with the Jamaat.

Muslim leaders say the 2002 violence has made them realise that much ill-will and misunderstanding is created when people of one religion do not respect the beliefs of others.

‘‘The gap is tremendous. We have to bridge it with trust, respect and love,’’ says Rizwan Ahmed, who heads an informal committee of meat shop owners.

‘‘This is why we have asked all meat dealers to stop business for the eight days when Jains fast and meditate for self-purification.’’

Some 200 meat shops in Ahmedabad will remain closed even if it means losses. Most butchers and meat shop owners are poor or belong to the middle class.

‘‘Our community does not have deep pockets. People spend their earnings the same day,’’ says Ahmed. ‘‘Eight days of keeping shops closed means financial problems. But we are now used to it.’’

On a demand from the Jains, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has since 1993 been ordering slaughter-houses and meat shops to remain closed during Paryushan, observed around the third week of September.

In 1997 it ordered the closure for 18 days and this had caused much hardship to butchers.

But the butchers had never challenged the order in court, partly because there’s a flourishing illegal trade in meat. Ban or not, non-vegetarians are by and large able to get their daily share.

Last month, however, voluntary group Lok Adhikar Sangh filed a petition challenging the municipal order in Gujarat High Court.

It said the order interfered with the people’s right to trade, livelihood and liberty. The court ruled that the order was unconstitutional.

This created a stir in the Jain community. Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia has been meeting Jain saints to discuss the implications of the order while the community has appealed to the meat shop owners to respect their sentiments.

‘‘It’s against our religion to see animals butchered during those days. We pray and meditate for purifying our thoughts and lifestyle. Non-violence is essential for it,’’ says Sadhvi Rajprabha of the Sthanakvasi Jain community.

Now that many butchers have voluntarily decided to keep their shops closed, the Jains are moving to ensure that the poor among them do not suffer.

‘‘We know they suffer losses and respect their decision to keep shops shut despite the court order,’’ says Trilok Muni of the Jain Sangh. ‘‘We are finding out a way to compensate those who will be put to hardship.’’

Says Rishab Jain of the Jain Mahasangh of Gujarat: ‘‘They should not think this is charity. We aren’t giving anything in charity. The Muslims are respecting our religious sentiments and we in turn want to help them, out of gratitude.’’

I am not very optimistic about Gujarat, usually, but this gives me some hope. For one, it left Praveen Togadia without an issue to scream about. For another, it harkened back to older traditions of tolerance - In Delhi, during the early nineteenth century for instance, when the Mughals were still nominally on the throne - it was forbidden to slaughter cows for Bakr-Id. I am also glad that unconstitutional majoritarian dadagiri of the Gujarat administration has been exposed, even if in small measure. And that the understanding is now between communities, with the state having nothing to do with it. Which, in an ideally anarchic world, is the way things should be.
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