A ban on trading cattle for slaughter has been temporarily suspended by the Madras High Court, dealing the first legal blow to the controversial measure.
The Madurai bench of the Tamil Nadu court has lifted the order issued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for four weeks, in a move which a lawyer involved claimed was effective countrywide.
The sudden ruling prohibiting the sale and purchase of cows for slaughter last week had sparked protests against what many saw as an overreach by the Hindu-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Some states where cow slaughter is legal vowed to fight the decree.
The Madras High Court stayed the federal ban on Tuesday, becoming the first jurisdiction to mount a successful challenge.
‘The court ruled that the order be put in abeyance for four weeks and asked the central and state governments to reply to the petition filed by my client,’ Ajmal Khan, a lawyer for the petitioners, told news agency AFP.
The petitioners from Tamil Nadu objected to the ban, saying it infringed on their right to eat what they choose.
Beef and buffalo meat is a common delicacy in some south and northeastern Indian states but taboo in most of India.
Some states organised ‘beef fests’ to protest the ban. Organisers in Kerala state killed a calf, triggering outrage and counter rallies by BJP supporters where cows were adorned with flowers.
The slaughter of cows, as well as the possession or consumption of beef, is banned in most but not all Indian states.
Some impose up to life imprisonment for infringements.
The new federal ban affected not just the trade in cows – an animal considered sacred for Hindus – for slaughter across India, but bulls, bullocks, buffaloes, calves and camels as well
Kerala, West Bengal, Meghalaya and Puducherry – four jurisdictions that allowed cow slaughter – have said they will resist the ban.
Modi’s ascent to power in 2014 has spurred demands for a nationwide ban on cow slaughter by radical Hindu groups, who often resort to violence over the sacred animal.
At least a dozen people, mostly Muslims, have been killed by Hindu mobs over rumours that they were eating beef, slaughtering cows or smuggling them.
The move by the Madras High Court brings some relief to Muslim-dominated beef and leather industries that employ millions of poor workers.
The ban threatens $4 billion in annual beef exports and millions of jobs.
‘I filed the petition because I thought the ban undermined basic rights such as the right to profession,’ Selvagomathy told Reuters news agency, adding that the lifting of the ban applied to all Indian states.
Abdul Faheem Qureshi, head of the Muslim All India Jamiatul Quresh Action Committee that supports meat sellers, welcomed the decision by the court in southern India and said his organisation would seek a suspension from India’s highest court.
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