A wise person on the social media site, Twitter, said recently that India is a sovereign, socialist, peculiar, democratic republic. He was obviously punning on the word secular by replacing it with peculiar, but he had made an important point.
The word secular has been interpreted in different ways by various successive governments, so much so that for many, it has become a four-letter word. And successive governments have treated religion and the accompanying or resulting peculiarities of that to their advantage.
The current Maharashtra government, voted in on a mandate of development, minimum government and maximum governance, has abandoned all pretence of at least one definition of secularism, that is, to treat all religions equally and with fairness. Of course, the original definition of secularism is pretty clear it is the separation of religion from the state. France, for instance, where this idea has been perhaps most stringently adopted and is practised in everyday governance, allows for uniform civil laws for everyone regardless of religion.
It is in this context that the ban on cow slaughter and trading in beef products should be viewed. Beef is a significant part of the diet of Christians, Muslims, and even a portion of the Hindu community. Lakhs not only consume it, but thousands depend on the trade for their livelihood. By denying this livelihood, the state is trampling upon their right to work.
Eating beef is a matter of dietary choice, accepted all around the world. It cannot be, and should not be, imposed upon by the state. The argument often given to counter this view is that Islamic states have a ban on pork products. This is a flawed argument, because the Indian constitution defines the country as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. The voice of the majority, no matter how loud, cannot be viewed as the voice of the nation.