The Cost of Faith

The new di­men­sions of cow slaugh­ter­ing in In­dia.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Mahrukh Fa­rooq

Thou­sands of butch­ers, skin­ners and care­tak­ers – also known as qassab who be­long to the Mus­lim com­mu­nity in­volved in the meat busi­ness – saw their liveli­hoods go up in smoke when a law seek­ing a ban on the con­sump­tion and sale of cows came into force on March 4 early this year.

Build­ing on the foun­da­tion of the 1976 pro­hi­bi­tion of slaugh­ter of cows, the law makes the killing of bulls and bul­locks illegal with a max­i­mum penalty of five years in prison along with fines of up to Rs. 10,000. It even

for­bids the pos­ses­sion of cow, bull and bul­lock meat in Ma­ha­rash­tra, even if the an­i­mal was legally slaugh­tered out­side the state.

The ban is a re­sult of a re­newed thrust by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to pro­tect cows that are con­sid­ered sa­cred and are wor­shipped by a ma­jor­ity of Hin­dus. This is re­it­er­ated through­out the right-wing party’s elec­tion man­i­festo. Fol­low­ing in Ma­ha­rash­tra’s foot­steps, other BJP-led states in­clud­ing Jharkand and Haryana have also tight­ened the noose around lo­cal butch­ers. Many mem­bers of the BJP have voiced their prom­ise to ‘pro­tect and pro­mote the cows and its prog­eny.’

“How can we ac­cept the fact that cow slaugh­ter is al­lowed in this coun­try?" said Home Min­is­ter Ra­j­nath Singh while speak­ing to a group of spir­i­tual lead­ers back in March. "We will use all our might to ban it. We will try to build a con­sen­sus."

Many crit­ics though see it as a law specif­i­cally tar­geted at Mus­lims who con­trol the butch­ers’ trade across In­dia. In their view, the ban serves as just another re­minder of the sheer in­tol­er­ant at­mos­phere that ex­ists in a coun­try that prides it­self on be­ing the world’s largest democ­racy; from a push to re­write school text­books in or­der to tell sto­ries of a glo­ri­fied Hindu past to the se­vere per­se­cu­tion of non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions that re­ceived funds from for­eign sources. “Ban­ning books or ban­ning meat — both are an at­tempt to au­thor cul­tural codes,” says Shiv Vis­vanan­than, a so­ci­ol­o­gist and pro­fes­sor at the O.P. Jin­dal Global Univer­sity in the north­ern state of Haryana. “Cul­tural bias can­not be­come pol­icy,” he says, fur­ther adding that the gov­ern­ment is bank­ing on the mo­ti­va­tion of the larger ma­jor­ity of Hin­dus to spur the im­ple­men­ta­tion of what they call their ‘cul­tural pu­rifi­ca­tion’ pro­grams.

Iron­i­cally, in spite of the in­tensely driven ban, In­dia has re­tained its po­si­tion of be­ing the world’s largest ex­porter of beef, even ex­tend­ing its lead over Brazil, ac­cord­ing to data cited in a re­port re­leased by the US Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, In­dia ex­ported 2.4 mil­lion tonnes of beef and veal in the fi­nan­cial year 2015. The coun­try alone ac­counts for 23.5% of world meat ex­ports.

In ad­di­tion, there are still sev­eral re­gions of In­dia that per­mit the slaugh­ter of cows on the con­di­tion that butch­ers pro­duce the re­quired ‘slaugh­ter cer­tifi­cates.’ These re­gions in­clude As­sam, Tamil Nadu, West Ben­gal, Arunachal Pradesh, Ker­ala, Ma­nipur, Megha­laya, Mi­zo­ram, Na­ga­land, Sikkim and Tripura.

Nev­er­the­less, there are still big seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion that feel the pinch of the ban. They no­tably be­long to the Mus­lim, Chris­tian and low­er­caste Hindu com­mu­ni­ties. Butch­ers in charge of abat­toirs, once cen­tres of im­mense hus­tle and bus­tle, now stand aban­doned and de­serted. “What are we to do?” asks Sheikh Qureshi. “All of us have be­come use­less.” The 22-yearold butcher, hav­ing been out of work for the past 3 months, is now find­ing it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to pro­vide for his fam­ily.

Many of the af­fected had voted for the BJP for the first time last year af­ter sup­port­ing the dy­nas­tic Congress Party for decades. The law has left many such peo­ple to feel dis­il­lu­sioned and be­trayed. “The PM promised ‘ achhe din aaney wale hain’ [good days will come],” says Halim Qureshi, a leader of the Bom­bay Sub­ur­ban Beef Deal­ers Wel­fare As­so­ci­a­tion. “What ‘achhe din?’ He’s taken away our jobs and our food.” The pres­i­dent of the as­so­ci­a­tion, Mo­hammed Ali Qureshi, stresses that a na­tion­wide ban on beef will fail as peo­ple in sev­eral states en­joy the meat that is a cheap source of pro­tein. "A na­tion­wide ban on cow slaugh­ter is im­pos­si­ble," Qureshi said. "If the gov­ern­ment takes any such de­ci­sion we won't sit quiet and there will be na­tion­wide protest. They will have to re­gret their de­ci­sion."

Even Hindu farm­ers in ru­ral Ma­ha­rash­tra face the brunt of the ban as they find it im­pos­si­ble to take care of age­ing cat­tle they had orig­i­nally in­tended to sell for slaugh­ter. “The hypocrisy is ev­i­dent. There’s a huge vested in­ter­est [in the ban]—the buf­falo in­dus­try,” says so­ci­ol­o­gist Vis­vanathan, adding, “The clas­si­fi­ca­tion of an­i­mals is done by sleight of hand. The im­pact of the ban be­comes even more acute for many who are em­ployed in in­dus­tries re­lated to beef, be­cause they be­long to the in­for­mal sec­tor. They’re in­vis­i­ble, so their liveli­hood gets elim­i­nated.”

The gov­ern­ment de­nies that the law par­tic­u­larly tar­gets Mus­lims and in­stead claims that it was brought into force for the ben­e­fit of the farm­ers and to ar­rest the de­cline of the an­i­mal pop­u­la­tion. Ma­hesh Pathak, the Ma­ha­rash­tra sec­re­tary of an­i­mal hus­bandry has high­lighted the long-term ben­e­fits of the ban that in­clude an in­crease in milk pro­duc­tion and pro­tein con­sump­tion in the state along with a de­cline in the use of chem­i­cal fer­til­iz­ers. He says that butch­ers should ad­just and “cut buff (buf­falo) in­stead of beef. One choice of meat is not avail­able, but buff will re­place it,” he says.

How­ever, the avail­abil­ity of buf­falo meat does lit­tle to pacify dis­grun­tled Mus­lim butch­ers who claim that they pre­fer bull meat in­stead. This has there­fore led to a com­plete ab­sti­nence from meat al­to­gether as mut­ton, chicken and fish are too ex­pen­sive for the poor. “None of us eat buf­falo. Some­times, we eat a quar­ter kilo of chicken. Some­times, we eat bread. And some­times, we go hun­gry,” says butcher Sheikh Nabi Lal, who is the sole bread­win­ner for his fam­ily of five.

Many have risen to chal­lenge the ban, fear­ing a to­tal sabotage of their cen­turies-old cus­toms and tra­di­tions, not to men­tion their liveli­hoods. Pe­ti­tions have been filed in the Bom­bay High Court ask­ing the ju­di­ciary to stay cer­tain pro­vi­sions of the law as, in their view, it vi­o­lates the con­sti­tu­tional rights of pri­vacy and free­dom of choice. Although the gov­ern­ment did not grant a stay, it did ac­knowl­edge that an overnight ban did not give enough time for peo­ple to get rid of the beef they legally pos­sessed. The court even­tu­ally di­rected the gov­ern­ment not to pros­e­cute peo­ple in pos­ses­sion of beef for three months af­ter the date of the April 29 or­der or un­til the pe­ti­tions are fi­nally heard, which­ever is later.

What­ever is it that needs to be done, must be done. For many Mus­lim butch­ers along with mem­bers of the Chris­tian and lower-caste Hindu com­mu­ni­ties, life as they know it will be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult.

Iron­i­cally, in spite of the in­tensely driven ban, In­dia has re­tained its po­si­tion of be­ing the world’s largest ex­porter of beef, even ex­tend­ing its lead over Brazil.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.