Meat spilled over from dinner tables to streets as hundreds of political activists on Thursday protested the four-day meat ban in Mumbai during a Jain festival, even as the Bombay High Court raised its eyebrows at the ban.
The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, in a bid to regain political relevance, led the protests in Dadar, the hub of the meat-loving Maharashtrian community by selling the banned items on Thursday — the start of the eight-day-long Jain holy festival of Paryushan which devouts observe through religious austerity/fasting and forgiveness.
“We challenge authorities to take action against us… This meat ban is unjustified, violates our fundamental rights and intended to appease a particular community against the wishes of the huge majority,” MNS leader and corporator Sandeep Deshpande later told media persons.
In the evening, MNS president Raj Thackeray stepped into the fray by asking meat-sellers to defy the ban and offered his party cadre’s support to sell meat and fish produce in the markets.
“Are we under some kind of Mughal rule that people should suffer such ban on eating habits? It is possible only because some people are hiding behind (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi and (BJP president) Amit Shah… This ban on sale of meat is just the beginning, watch what the future holds in store,” he said.
Warning that the MNS should not be pushed into a corner and agitate, Thackeray demanded to know why nobody objects when Digamber Jain monks move around without clothes, but Jains are now demanding a ban on meat.
“Jains cannot decide what the people of Maharashtra will eat or do,” he added.
Deshpande, daring the civic authorities to “take action” against him, said the people were entitled to eat whatever they wanted anytime, and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had no right to stop them.
However, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray made it clear that the four-day ban was not acceptable and his party “would not tolerate any kind of religious compulsions on any community”.
Earlier this week, the BMC imposed a ban on sale of meat for four days of the Paryushan festival, while the adjoining Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation in Thane declared a complete ban during September 11-18.
Other civic bodies like Navi Mumbai and Nashik have also followed suit with similar partial ban on certain days, hitting the slaughter and sale of mutton, chicken and fish items.
Though the ban has been implemented in Mumbai in spurts since 1964, it has never led to street protests.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena government has already banned beef sale in the state since April this year.
Hearing a PIL filed by Bombay Mutton Dealers Association challenging the BMC’s move, a division bench headed by Justice Anoop Mohta directed the civic and state authorities to file affidavits on the issue.
Terming the ban as “not feasible” in a metropolitan city like Mumbai, Justice Mohta observed that such a straight ban cannot be a formula.
He further wondered about the status of other items like packaged meat products already available in the markets.
The matter will come up for further hearing on Friday.