Recently, after the controversy has engulfed national media and India’s opposition politics, a delegation of Jain leaders in Mumbai went to meet Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray, at his home ‘Matoshree’ in Bandra East.
The first thing Thackeray told the Jain leaders was that: All these years, during Paryushan, Jains’ festival of abstention – meat has always been barred in the city and there were no complaints from any quarters!“Then, suddenly what happened this year? How has it erupted into this controversy and who is behind it all?” Thackeray wondered, referring to the vehement protest on the streets and in the media, after the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation routinely banned slaughter of animals and sale of meat in the city for four days.
“As far as Shiv Sena is concerned, this controversy has ended. But we must find out how it all started and who is responsible for it?” Thackeray told the assembled media persons after the meeting held on this Sunday afternoon. The media was agog with protest commentaries, of different shapes, shades and hues, using superlatives like: Fascist Plan!/ Hidden Saffron Agenda!/ A Blatant Violation of Human Liberties!…so on and so forth! Following a huge public and press uproar and protests from most political parties, including the Shiv Sena and MNC, the BMC simply climbed down and reduced the ban for just two days. Even then, the protests had not subsided! And let us remind that, this so called Ban was not a new phenomenon. It has been in force since 1964, when the Congress ruled BMC passed a resolution prescribing a two-day prohibition on animal slaughter and sale of meat in Mumbai, in regard to the appeal by the Jain community in the State.
In the year 2004, the Congress-NCP Government in Maharashtra passed another resolution endorsing the two-day ban. Since then, the ban has been extended to four days across Mumbai, in every September. “Two days are according to the 1964 BMC resolution and two on account of the State’s 2004 resolution,” clarified a BMC official. This year’s ban came with precedence by the Jain dominated satellite town Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation’s passing of resolution to ban the sale of meat in its markets for the entire Paryushan period of eight-days. The Congress, which has always been at the forefront of this prohibition in all these years, has now taken a queer and clever U-turn! Having passed the BMC as well as Maharashtra State government resolutions supporting the two-day ban in 1964 and 2004 respectively, it is now passionately opposing it. President of the Mumbai Congress, Sanjay Nirupam, incidentally who was with the Shiv Sena a few years back, has called the BMC’s ban utterly “undemocratic”!
His comment was: “Though religious sentiments should not be hurt, other communities should not be deprived of their daily meals. We strongly condemn this decision”.
Jains Are Surprised And Hurt!
The Jains are really surprised to see the sudden outburst of protests, while the proscription has already been there for last 41 years! A Jain gentleman had this much to say: “We have never asked the non-Jains to fast or observe penance. Their lives are not being placed in any kind of utter disturbance. There can different views on whether an animal diet is ideal or a must, or whether a vegetarian one. We are not compelling our practice to others.
All that is being sought is that just for 2 -4 days barring, in the entire year, to honour a community’s entrenched belief of non violence and compassion to other animals.
You enjoy your meat round the year and display slaughtered animals right on public view, slaughter them openly ignoring other people’s sentiments, but Jains were not seeking anything to ban that common practice here, as of now, also they are not asking for any favour for themselves. The community is asking for an expression of human compassion for the other species, to begin with”.
According to the community people, the purpose of the ban stands frustrated by the motivated kinds of outrage that it has caused in recent times. The sheer outrage, outright negativity, endless anger and resentments are equated to violence as perceived by Jain belief. The idea was to start thinking about ending violence and cruelty to other animals, even for a few days. But this sudden outburst and maligning of the community has been equated to provocation! All these years nobody had a big problem as it was thought that, it was not a big deal if the slaughter houses remain closed for just a few days in a year. It was about giving up limited personal liberty on a very few days to show respect to some others who are their neighbours.
They ask: Don’t we give up our personal liberties on those three national holidays, including Gandhi birthday? They are always dry days and one can’t buy liquor then. Technically speaking, that is also a ban, and that is nationwide. Many opposition leaders and intellectuals are projecting an idea that this ban is to harm Muslim interests and their right to eat. But we know that during the Muslim month of Ramjan, Muslims close their eateries during the daytime. Has anyone asked them, is that legally permitted under shop and establishment Act!
During Navaratras, every year, most Hindu eateries don’t serve Meat, and it surely affects the Muslim people’s meat business. But why there were no vociferous protests from the Muslims or the political parties then!
Nearly all leading restaurants in the city and meat shops offer only Halaal meat, in order to respect Muslim sentiments and also the slaughter houses operated mostly by Muslims, supply them to market.
What will happen, if Hindus start demanding only Jhatka meat to be served, insisting on religious belief, personal choice and liberty? A Supreme Court judgment in 2008 grants Municipal Corporations the power to impose a ban on meat slaughter during Paryushan. The order is applicable to localities with a sizable Jain population. In the Mira-Bhayander area, 25 to 30 per cent of the population is of the Jains. In Mumbai, Jain population is around 5%.
In the Mira-Bhayander area there are more than 100 Jain temples, and Jain Sadhus and their followers are often seen crossing the roads that have chicken and mutton hanging openly in the shops. They never protested it, but Paryushan is Jain religion’s biggest fasting period, the other should try to accommodate. The point being totally missed is that this is not merely about diet, vegetarianism or imposition of will. It is about violence. Slaughter is violent. All year round, mute and hapless animals in hordes are lined up in legal and illegal abattoirs and slaughtered. Chicken are slaughtered in full public view, right on the roads. And no, it is not a ban on one’s eating meat and storing them – one is still free to do so – but a ban on slaughter in the slaughter houses for a very few days and a ban on sale of meat in some selected regions of India, where Jains live in a substantial number, that has been made into a very big political and media propelled issue!
The Supreme Court in its recent judgement has said, while dismissing a plea against a Bombay high court order staying the decision to ban sale of meat in Mumbai during Jain festival, that: “There has to be the spirit of tolerance and anything should not be thrust on a particular class.” But Jains are asking, whether this tolerance should be shown, by the Jain community alone!
‘Paryushan’ is a combination of two words: Par (all) and Ushan (to burn). It is the most important annual Jain observance that aims at burning or ending all malice, hatred, and ill feelings accumulated in a person’s life and thoughts.
Jains strive to achieve this through fasting, meditation, soul-searching, self-realisation, compassion, ahimsha and practicing forgiveness towards all others.While Shvetambara sect observes the ritual over eight days, the Digambars observe the festival for ten days. According to Jain scriptures, during this important observance of Paryushan, the Jains must perform twelve different kinds of severities, including fasting and self-study (Svadhyaya). The purpose of this observance Paryushan is to purify one’s mind and actions guided by one’s soul, reflecting on one’s shortcomings, seeking forgiveness for their wrongdoings, remove vices and malice from within and take a sacred vow to minimise the mistakes and misdeeds in the future course of actions. Prayers and meditations are the integral part of this observance. Reading of the Jain scriptures like the ‘Kalpa Sutra’, a holy book that describes the life and ideal of Lord Mahavira, the last Tirthankara. It also recounts the story of his birth, life and liberation and added details of the lives and ideals of 23 Tirthankaras.
On the last day of the observation Jains, specially the Shvetambars practice the annual Confession ritual or ‘Michhami Dukkaddam’, seeking forgiveness from others. This comprises of getting forgiveness from others and also forgiving others too.
The Politics Behind Uproar
Congress is taking an abrupt U-turn. The Left, Samajwadis and other parties are calling it an anti-Muslim stand. And why Shiv Sena and MNS are on the streets with protests is not hard to understand. In February 2017, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), will go to polls. BMC has traditionally been controlled by the Shiv Sena. But considering the political overtures made by the BJP in the past, and its growing influence in Maharashtra politics, it is very much possible that the Modi-Amit Shah combine will try to displace Shiv Sena from the BMC mantle as well. Shiv Sena has already a sour relation with BJP. It leaves no opportunity to oppose the BJP. Also Shiv Sena considers the Jains a predominantly Gujarati invasion in Maharashtra. The same goes for the MNS.
The most influential party in Maharashtra politics these days, is no longer the Congress or Shiv Sena, it’s the BJP. That’s precisely why the Shiv Sena and MNS have harped on the opportunity to oppose the meat ban during Jain festival. Both these parties are vying to get attention of mostly non-vegetarian lower and middle class Marathi Manoos. But again, the Ganesh festival is mostly a Maharastian Brahmin initiatated grand ritual. These Maharastrian Brahmins are strictly vegetarian. Their support base was earlier with Congress, now with the BJP.
It’s a fact that, the Jains are a micro-minority with limited overall electoral impact in Maharashtra and in Mumbai. The approach of the Shiv Sena and MNS would have been quite different had the meat ban been imposed in relation to any major Hindu festival! There is a very significant thing. When the Jain ritual of ‘Santhara’, a traditional practice of facing death voluntarily at the end of one’s life, created much controversy, sometime back, everyone from press to political parties were in favour of age-old Jain practice. But this time Muslim meat sellers came out in protest and court petitions, so most political parties also took the cudgel in favour of the meat lobby. Here lies the nuance and real motive of Indian politics. And Jains are on the receiving end!
By Deep Basu
Images by author