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India: High Court of Himachal Pradesh Bans All Religious Forms of Animal Sacrifice in the State

(Oct. 6, 2014) On September 1, 2014, the High Court of Himachal Pradesh issued an order banning animal sacrifices for religious purposes and in places of religious worship. The ban was issued in response to a number of petitions made by animal rights activists about the practice of animal sacrifice in temples or at religious festivals in several districts in the province. The order stipulates that no person “shall sacrifice any animal in any place of public religious worship, including all lands and building near such places of religious worship” and that no person shall “perform or offer to perform or serve, assist or participate or offer to serve [sic] any sacrifice of animal in any place of religious worship ceremony/Yagya [sacred fire ceremony]” nor allow such sacrifice to take place in “any place which is situated within any place of public religious worship.” (High Court of Himachal Pradesh, CWP No. 5076 of 2012, CWP No. 9257 of 2011, No. 4499 of 2012, ¶ 7 (Sept. 1, 2014), High Court website.)

On September 26, 2014, the High Court issued a judgment rejecting a plea to review its earlier order. (High Court of Himachal Pradesh, CWP No. 9257 of 2011, along with CWP No.4499/2012 & CWP No. 5076/2012 (Sept. 26, 2014), High Court website. ) After an extensive review of mostly Indian Supreme Court judgments, the Court held that “discontinuing” the religious practice of animal sacrifice would not violate articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantee to all persons the freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate their religion and for denominations to manage their own affairs in matters related to religion. (Id. ¶ 79.)

The Court, following past Supreme Court precedents which held that even though some practices are part of religious expression, they “may have sprung from merely superstitious beliefs and may in that sense be extraneous and unessential accretions to religion itself. Unless such practices are bound to constitute an essential and integral part of a religion,” they fall outside the scope of constitutional rights protection. The Court held that it could not establish that based on the material “placed on record that animal sacrifice is an essential part of the religion by making reference to the doctrines of Hindu religion itself.” (Id. ¶ 60.) The Court argued further that “if animal sacrifice is taken out, it will not result in fundamental change in the character of the Hindu religion or in its belief.” (Id. ¶ 63.)

Though the State government tried to argue that animal sacrifice for religious purposes is deeply rooted in the Hindu faith and religion since time immemorial, the Court, after a review of Hindu religious texts and scriptures, found that “these practices were prevalent only in pre-historic times” and that in “in this era, these practices have no social sanction but [are] merely based on superstition and ignorance.” Moreover, the Court also felt that that the above rights must be read together with the principles of state policy and duties of citizens for the welfare of animals enshrined under articles 48, 48-A, and 51-A of the Constitution of India. (Id. ¶ 67.)