Meat traders across Uttar Pradesh are under siege. After remaining under constant threat of being apprehended and put behind bars with huge fines, meat sellers across the state have gone on indefinite strike.
From Ghaziabad, and Noida in close proximity to the Indian capital of New Delhi, to Ghazipur, the easternmost part of the state, bordering Bihar, the sale of buffalo meat has come to a complete stop across Uttar Pradesh.
Animal movement across the state has come a to a complete halt given the presence of cow vigilantes on major highways and even in interiors. While the presence of cow vigilante groups is not new in the state – they have been there for the last three or four years – they have become very active after the massive mandate that the BJP got in the last assembly elections.
The closure of slaughterhouses in the state was on the BJP agenda during the election campaign. The BJP’s new Chief Minister of the state, Adityanath, has been a major supporter of the beef ban in the state and had used every method to send his message across. His Hindu Yuva Vahini has been trying to forcefully stop the availability of beef in the areas of its influence in eastern parts of the state.
Beef should not be construed as cow meat
Despite the beef ban being on the BJP agenda, no one thought that the party will enforce it so forcefully. It should be kept in mind that many people confuse beef with cow meat.
Cow slaughter is a punishable offence in the state. The only form of beef available in the state includes buffalo meat and that has been freely available across the state.
It must be kept in mind that the buffalo has no religious connotation, the same way lamb and goat don’t have any. Nonetheless, meat merchants across the state have been facing tough time over the last fortnight and are being denied the right to slaughter and sell it.
While the chief minister Aditya Nath has said that the legitimate slaughterhouses don’t need to fear, many slaughterhouses with valid permits have been shuttered down in the last fortnight or so. The sale of buffalo meat has come to a complete standstill across the state.
Giving up meat consumption for one year
In the eye of increasing harassment of buffalo traders and the Quraishi community that is fully into the business, there is an increasing demand from a section of the community to give up meat consumption altogether for one year to bring the entire meat trade to a standstill.
If it really happens, the entire business of beef and the billions that the meat exporters make from export will be gone forever. Besides, the infrastructure will be completely destroyed. It must be kept in mind that beef export is not completely dominated by Muslims alone. On the contrary, Muslims are in minority in this business too, the same way they are in minority in other businesses.
Largest beef exporters in India are not Muslims
To be fair, the top four meat exporters from India are not Muslims but Hindus, though their business ventures have Arabic sounding names as they export beef mainly to the Gulf and other Muslim nations. The owners of Al-Kabeer Exports Pvt. Ltd, Arabian Exports Pvt.Ltd and many other meat exporters are not Muslims.
Muslims are not the only consumers of beef. More than thirty-five percent of the population of the country consumes meat and beef being an important part of protein is used by hundreds of millions of people across the country.
Is the permanent ban possible?
In the wake of Aditya Nath assuming the office of chief minister of the state, a crisis is unfolding across UP. Analysts believe that a permanent ban on buffalo meat will adversely impact the state’s finances. The state earns thousands of crore of revenue from direct sale of meat and much more from leather industry as a whole. Data show that buffalo meat, including the output in meat processing plants in Uttar Pradesh, in the year 2014-15 stood at 7,515 lakh kilograms, while that of goat meat was as much at 1,771 lakh kilogram, sheep meat at 231 lakh kilogram while pig meat production was recorded at 1,410 lakh kilogram.
Lakhs of Hindus, Muslims will be rendered unemployed
The industry provides employment to millions of people across the state. It is not just Muslims who are employed in the industry. Leather market employs hundreds of thousands of people of different faiths.
UP’s industrial hub of Kanpur is thriving on leather business. An Indian Express report claims that the estimated loss of revenue due to the slaughter ban will be about Rs 11,350 crore (2015-16) in terms of revenue from exports. “In 2015-16, Uttar Pradesh exported 5,65,958 metric tonnes of buffalo meat. There is no other state in the country with the resources or the bovine numbers that could even come close to filling this huge hole,” the Icra report said. The loss to the tertiary business including the loss to leather products will be mammoth.
While the ban might be enforced by some over zealot BJP administration now, it cannot continue for a long time, given the loss to the revenue and unemployment that it will cause.
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Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India.