The rumblings of a major source of dissent over food habits are now beginning to be heard in the Northeast. The region has three Christian-majority States: galand, Mizoram and Meghalaya. The Bharatiya Jata Party (BJP) allies in these three States have opposed the Union government’s new cattle trade and slaughter rules that directly affect their food habits. The ruling ga People’s Front (NPF) in galand has asked the rendra Modi-led NDA government to desist from imposing restrictions on the dietary habits of the people. The NPF’s Central Executive Council has also directed the Shurhozelie Liezietsu-led galand government to take up the matter with the Union government so that traditiol, religious or customary practices are not infringed upon by any unilateral decision of the Centre. “We have urged the (State) government to advise the Central government to desist from imposing restrictions on dietary habits and culiry preferences of the ga people, and to see to it that their social, traditiol, religious or customary practices are not infringed due to any unilateral decision of the Centre,” NPF Resolution Committee convener Sebastian Zumvu said. And it is not as though only the allies of the BJP have opposed the Centre’s new cattle trade and slaughter rules. Four BJP members in the 60-member galand Assembly too are supporting the NPF government on this issue. In Mizoram, the Opposition Mizo tiol Front (MNF), which is one of the constituents of the BJP-led Northeast Democratic Alliance, has also opposed the Central government notification under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017. “We will not accept Central government’s new rules. The people of Mizoram are cent per cent beef and pork eaters. They may implement that law in other States but the Mizos will continue to slaughter and eat beef or pork, as it is part of our staple diets,” MNF president Pu Zoramthanga told the IANS. However, he also said that Union Home Minister Rajth Singh had assured him that the Central government would not impose any restrictions on people’s choice of food. In any case, hundreds of people of Aizawl took part in a “Beef Ban Bashing Banquet” on Monday during Rajth Singh’s visit to the State capital, as a mark of protest against the new rules restricting the sale of cattle for slaughter. In Meghalaya too, it is not merely the BJP allies (the tiol People’s Party and the United Democratic Party) that have opposed the Centre’s new rules. Even the BJP is facing opposition from its own members. Some of them have even quit the party over the issue. In a special session, the Meghalaya Assembly unimously passed a resolution asking the Centre to immediately withdraw the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, so to maintain the Constitution’s federal and secular character.
Even in the most favourable conditions, it is extremely difficult for any government to impose restrictions on people’s food habits and preferences. These habits and preferences have consolidated over centuries, and any attempts to meddle with them are bound to be stoutly resisted. This resistance is bound to be all the greater in a country that has proclaimed itself to be a secular democratic republic. Besides, people are bound to ask questions about whether the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 are restricted to just one animal species to the exclusion of others. There are two aspects of the Union government’s intentions that are quite evident. One is that the government is not out to make everyone in India a vegetarian. The other is that the Rules do not seem to be applicable to sheep or goats or even to pigs. Is the government trying to tell us by implication that it is concerned only about cruelty to cattle and is not unduly worried about cruelty to sheep, goats or buffaloes? If this is indeed the case, the government should worry about the aforesaid Rules since they carry the distinct impression that the government is not worried about the extent of cruelty done to other animals. Such rules, that are framed with just one animal species in mind, are best left to theocratic states or morchies.