Dead goats, laws

Today I attended a talk about temple animal sacrifices and laws regulating them in Tamil Nadu. It was a fascinating talk, more than I expected it to be. In brief, it was about the practice of animal sacrifice at certain smaller temples in Tamil Nadu during festivals, the politics of a 1950 law (theoretically) banning it, and the enforcement or lack thereof of the law until the present day. There were several resonances with all the articles I’ve been reading this week about Hindutva– eradicating the ‘backward’ practice of animal sacrifice is an aim of some segments of the Hindu nationalist movement, and as a result the issue of a ban is tied to issues over caste, cultural rights, and a wider debate concerning the ongoing nationalist reformation of Hinduism. Because Ornit Shani’s article on citizenship regimes in postcolonial India, and how minorities assert their rights within different regimes, is still lingering in my mind, the contestations over the ban in the courts sparked some thoughts. In the case of the 1950 law in question, the ban was not strictly on sacrifice but rather on sacrifice on the temple premises. This indicates that the legislators had group rituals and festivals in mind, more than anything else. On a similar note, people who have contested the ban in the courts have appealed to their group rights as a cultural group under the constitution, a claim bolstered by the implicit casteism in the legislation– the ban has been seen as some by a Brahminical attack on the ritual practices of other castes and an attempt at forcible assimilation into ‘mainstream’ brahminical Hinduism. What strikes me is how central the ‘group’ is in this case of making, and contesting, the law. The latter probably has to do with the ways you can use the Indian constitution to your advantage by invoking cultural rights, and the former with the fact that the controversial animal sacrifices take place in group settings. Nevertheless, the absence of the individual in the law, and of an appeal to individual religious freedom in criticisms of it, is intriguing for what it may say about how rights are regulated and imagined in some contexts in India.


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