Yet another beef related incident in the nation has sparked the debate which was never fully settled in the first place. Clear laws and cultural reorientation can probably prevent similar incidents from flaring up in the future.

Dalima Nessa, the headmistress of Hurkachungi Middle English School in Lakhipur, Goalpara district of Assam was arrested on Tuesday following a complaint by the local residents and her colleagues, for carrying beef in the lunchbox and allegedly offering it to some teachers.

Beef served at Mysuru event
[representational image]Creative commons

The headmistress Daliman Nessa, allegedly brought cooked beef in her lunchbox during the Gunotsav 2022. Held between May 11 and May 14, Gunotsav is a state-wide endeavour to evaluate a school's performance. After the complaint was filed against her, Nessa was taken to the police station on May 16 and after questioning, she was arrested and the court sent her to judicial custody on the next day.

A case has been registered under Sections 295(A) (acts intended to outrage religious feelings), Section 153(A) (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc) of the Indian Penal Code.

Image@Social media

What the law says?

Given the diverse cultural landscape of the North-East, consumption of beef is not illegal in Assam. However, the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 2021 bans the slaughter of cattle and sale of beef in areas where the Hindu, Jain and Sikh communities are in majority and within five km radius of a temple or Vaishnavite monastery.

Senior advocate Angshuman Bora, opined that both police and judiciary had faulted in the case. "Consumption of beef in public places is not an offence in Assam. The IPC sections applied are totally wrong. The judiciary should have granted bail on the first appearance itself as there was no remand necessary," news agency PTI quoted him as saying.

What the debate is about?

When it comes to conflicts pertaining to religion and culture, sentiments often run high and overshadow the real issue. The incident has sparked a controversy with several political parties jumping in the fray. Legal experts and opposition parties in Assam have criticised the police and judiciary for sending the teacher to jail for carrying and consuming beef, considering consumption of beef is not illegal in the state.

Several local residents have reportedly alleged that it is not the consumption of beef but the fact that Nessa offered the beef to her colleagues that hurt the religious sentiments of those complaining.

Meanwhile, Indian American Muslim Council, which is the advocacy organisation of Indian Muslims in the US, has criticised the arrest of the teacher. It also didn't take long for some to object to the fact that the issue was not worth taking note of.

"When will we move beyond religion and culture and look at more pressing issues," questioned a user. While another joked, "Now do we need a law on peeking into colleagues' lunchboxes?"