SRINAGAR: A Jammu and Kashmir High Court order, directing the state police to take "strict action" against beef sellers,sparked a political storm in the state Thursday with the separatist camp calling for a shutdown on Saturday against what they term as "interference in our religious matters".

Ordering the state police chief, K Rajendra Kumar, to issue "appropriate directions" to all top police officers of the 22 districts in J&K to stop the sale of beef, a division bench of the High Court comprising Justice Dhiraj Singh Thakur and Justice Janak Raj Kotwal Wednesday said there must be "strict compliance" of the ban.

“The Director General of Police in the meantime is directed and strict action is taken in accordance with law against those who indulge in it,” the bench observed on Wednesday.

Although there is a decades-old ban on the sale of beef in J&K, the High Court order will come as another headache for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which is facing accusations in the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley of doing a sellout before the BJP for power.

Condemning the order, PDP youth president and Political Analyst in chief minister's office, Waheed-ur-Rehman Para, said public must be allowed to decide on what to eat and what not. "There is a debate going on whether the state government should interfere into the people's right to food." he said.

"As far as Kashmir is concerned, we are a 5000-year-old civilisation and people know what eating sensitivities are. It is very controversial to define eating habits in a place of religious diversity," he added.

The court direction will also give a shot in the arm to the resurgent BJP, which is ruling the state for the first time in an alliance with the PDP.

The right-wing party is likely to project the order as the victory of its promise of "protecting the holy cow" made in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections, thereby polarising the Muslim majority state, where beef is consumed generously, especially in the rural areas, along communal lines.

Strongly reacting to the order, veteran Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Geelani, JKLF chairman, Yasin Malik and moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq called for a state-wide shutdown on Saturday.

Terming the court decision as “politically motivated”, the octogenarian leader said Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim majority state and the court has not taken the “consequences” of its decision into consideration. "The BJP and RSS are behind the court order whose obvious aim is to spark communal riots and defame the resistance movement of Kashmir,” he said.

Demanding a rollback of the order, Geelani said: "It is direct interference in the religious affairs of the Muslims and its implementation would never be allowed.”

Terming the High Court order as "unacceptable and direct interference in religious matters", moderate Hurriyat chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, also called for complete shutdown on Saturday.

JKLF chairman Yasin Malik also called for a strike on Saturday and termed the decision as politically motivated. “Ban imposed on beef by the High Court is a direct interference in religious affairs of Muslims. These kinds of orders will harm religious harmony in Jammu and Kashmir," he said.

Urging people to sacrifice bovines on the upcoming Eid-ul-Adha, senior Hurriyat leader, Masarat Aalam's Muslim League and Nayeem Khan's Jammu Kashmir National Front also expressed anguish over the ban.

The chief of Dukhataran-e-Millat (DeM), Asiya Andrabi purportedly slaughtered a cow at an undisclosed localtion in capital Srinagar and termed the court's decision as “unjustified”. Andrabi along with some masked youth slaughtered a cow at an undisclosed location in city here, a video of which was posted by the DeM on Facebook and Whatsapp. The largest socio-political organisation in J&K, Jamaat-e-Islami, termed the order as "unacceptable". "It is absolutely not possible to convince the Muslim community to go against their own religion, so we oppose it," Jama'at's newly elected chief, GM Bhat, said.

The ban on sale of beef was enacted in J&K in 1862 when Dogras ruled the state. Under section 298A of the RPC, intentionally killing or slaughtering a cow or like animal (including ox and buffalo) is a cognizable, non-bailable offence punishable with 10 years imprisonment and fine. Section 298B says possessing the flesh of such an animal is a cognizable, non-bailable offence punishable with imprisonment of one year and a fine.

The fresh order came on a Public Interest Litigation filed against cow slaughter by advocate Parimoksh Seth. The PIL states that slaughtering and sale of bovine animals severely affects "religious sentiments" of a section of the society.