On Tuesday the Madras high court suspended a controversial central government rule that outlawed the sale of cattle for slaughter at animal markets and triggered a political storm in India. Even as the court ordered a four-week stay on the notification, the Centre said it was examining the points raised by several states, including Kerala and West Bengal, which call the order an attack on India’s federal structure. Earlier, the Youth Congress excluded three members including Rejil Makutti for slaughtering a calf in public during a demonstration rally in Kerala that triggered widespread criticism, even from party vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

The government, however, rejected trying to restrict food habits of the people through the notification that has led to rallies and staging of beef festivals in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Congress activists in Kerala refused a cow in a public square on Saturday, an act that sparked outrage and forced party leaders to condemn the incident.

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Some students supposedly assaulted a PhD scholar who participated in a campus beef festival at the IIT-Madras on Tuesday, police said. Millions of Hindus consider the cow to be holy and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) the ideological mentor of the ruling BJP has been pushing for a countrywide ban on cow slaughter.

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Congress activists in Kerala refused a cow in a public square on Saturday, an act that sparked outrage and forced party leaders to condemn the incident.

Critics say the rule prohibit the sale of cows, bulls, bullocks, buffaloes, steers, heifers, calves, and camels for slaughter violates individual rights and will hurt millions of cattle and meat traders.

The Petitioners Selvagomathy and Asik Ilahi Bhava told the Madurai bench of the high court. Managing cattle trade is a state subject, but the Centre oversees animal welfare.

“The slaughtering of creatures for food, the food and culinary (items) made out of such animal flesh and offering the sacrifice of animals are part of the cultural identity of most societies in India, protected under the Constitution,” 

The new rules didn’t amount to a blanket ban on cattle trade or their slaughter. But the move was expected to choke supplies to the country’s Rs 1-lakh crore meat and allied industries that source about 90% of their requirements from animal markets.

Beef and buffalo meat is a general delicacy in some South and northeastern states. Activists and opponent political parties say the rule discriminates against Muslims, Christians and lower-caste Hindus who rely on the standard meat for protein.

Union message and broadcasting minister M Venkaiah Naidu defended the movement saying the notification was in response to a Supreme Court observation on limiting cruelty to animals and “breaking the nexus in animal markets, covering for smuggling.”

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Though Naidu told the government was examining the representation by states, he refused to clarify on whether the notification will be reconsidered. On Tuesday Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee asked the state police not to comply with the Centre’s notification.

“What somebody will eat is his or her choice. No one has the right to dictate. Don’t follow that order. The case has not given any such order. The administration should ensure that there is no confusion,” she said officials in Barrackpore. On Monday Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan termed the ban “anti-federal, anti-democratic and anti-secular.” He also recorded to his counterparts in other states demanding them to “stand together” and defend it.

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Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah told his government was analysing the developments. “We are examining awaiting Govt Order on Centre’s recent kerb on the sale of cattle for slaughter, esp since this is a State subject (sic),” he tweeted.