Image: Live Law
The Gujarat High Court came down heavily upon the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) for taking action against street vendors selling non-vegetarian food on the streets of Ahmedabad. According to LiveLaw, the Bench of Justice Biren Vaishnav asked, “You don’t like non-veg food, it is your lookout. How can you decide what people should eat outside? How can you stop people from eating what they want?”
The plea was filed by 20 street vendors before the Ahmedabad High Court challenging the non-implementation of the Street Vendors [Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending] Act, 2014 and the rules. The petitioners are however not just vendors of non-veg food but are persons having egg stalls, some cook eggs, some sell fruits and vegetables. They have challenged the acts of the respondents in seizing the laaris/carts and other ancillary equipment/apparatus and raw material without following due process
The AMC claimed that this was done as selling non-vegetarian food on the streets creates a health hazard as it is unhygienic and also harmful to the environment. The petitioners submitted that “Non-vegetarian food is being prepared and sold within the State of Gujarat for centuries. Under what authority or power are the Respondents preventing the Petitioners and persons alike from vending is something that is not available in public domain. This is nothing but bigotry to say the least.”
The plea also avers that as long as a person doesn’t impinge/violate the right of another or violate the law of the land, he/she must be free to produce/sell anything that he/she wants as such right has been afforded by Article 21 of the Constitution of India, reported Livelaw.
The petitioners have sought absolute compliance of the Street Vendors Act and also a direction that AMC should not oust any hawker/vendor/seller from the streets or impound any apparatus without following due process as per the law.
“How can you decide what people should eat? Suddenly because someone in power thinks that this is what they want to do? Tomorrow you will decide what I should eat outside my house? Tomorrow they will tell me that I should not consume sugarcane juice because it might cause diabetes or that coffee is bad for my health,” the bench orally remarked, reported LiveLaw.
This is certainly not the first instance in recent times of the government or their agencies trying to control what people eat. Meat politics has been in picture and predominantly so in recent times. In June, Kerala High Court stayed an order passed by the Lakshadweep administration to close down dairy farms on the islands and change the midday meal diet of school children by excluding chicken, beef, and other meat from the menu.
In the state of Gujarat in the mid-1990s – early 2000s Dalit and Muslim mothers would be warned if they packed a boiled egg in the tiffin(s) of their school-going children. In April 2000, in its cover story on Gujarat, Face to Face with Fascism, co-editor, Teesta Setalvad had reported in Communalism Combat (CC) on how, in the three years previously, “Members of the RSS–BJP–VHP combine have deliberately raked the whole issue of slaughter on Bakri Id, since 1997.” Waljibhai Patel, the doyen of the legal struggle for Dalits and minorities in the Gujarat High Court through his organisation, the Council for Social Justice (CSJ), told CC, “Jains are barely 0.2 per cent of the population but are extremely wealthy and influential. Hence the hue and cry around Bakri Id that also falls close to Mahavir Jayanti. Digambar Jains have a fortnight of observance of Paryushan.”
In 1997, Jains demanded that the slaughterhouse be closed for two weeks in consideration of their sentiments. The writ petition in 1997 resulted in a Gujarat High Court order directing that the slaughterhouse be re-opened. But the influential Jain lobby again voiced the same demand the very next year — this time with the BJP in power. Once again the CSJ approached the court and the HC directed the slaughterhouses to remain open for the entire fortnight, barring the first and last days.
In May 2017, the Central government attempted a complete ban on slaughter of cattle including – cows, buffaloes, bullocks, calves and camels- but this decision was stayed by the Supreme Court as it interfered with livelihood of people involved in leather and tanning industry as well as the meat production industry. In most cases the courts have aligned with the interests and the rights of the people but it is a sorry state of affairs that people have to reach the doors of the court to seek relief and until then have to suffer loss of livelihood and also suffer violation of their right to life and right to choose what to eat.
Pyramid of hate
As such, food bans like these serve as micro-aggressions in a pyramid of hate decried by organisations like Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). According to Secretary Teesta Setalvad, “Biased attitudes of stereotyping, insensitive remarks, fear of differences, non-inclusive language, micro aggressions justifying biases by seeking out like-minded people, that takes shape in the form of hate,” lay the foundation for institutionalised hate. The same can be seen in recent events as well.
Data of non-vegetarian population
According to the Sample Registration System (SRS) 2014 report, 71.6 percent males and 70.7 percent females in India above 15 years of age are non-vegetarian. Of these, 77.9 percent males and 76.1 percent females are from the SC category, and 76 percent males and 75.9 percent females are from the ST category. Almost every state in India has a special non-vegetarian dish using chicken, beef, mutton, fish or eggs. North-eastern states also have various dishes with pork.
Back in Gujarat – with a large population of Jains – 39.9 percent males and 38.2 percent females are non-vegetarians, as per the SRS report. Cities like Ahmedabad and Vadodara claim residents complain about the smell of food – not about the traffic caused by the stall.