Slaugh­ter ban hits In­dian leather in­dus­try

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

AGRA: In the back­streets of Agra’s Mus­lim quar­ter, where shoes have been made for cen­turies, small-scale man­u­fac­tur­ers are fir­ing work­ers and fam­i­lies are cut­ting back on spend­ing as a gov­ern­ment crack­down on cat­tle slaugh­ter rip­ples through the com­mu­nity.

The elec­tion of In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi of the Hindu na­tion­al­ist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) three years ago has em­bold­ened right-wing Hindu groups to push harder for pro­tec­tion of the cow, an an­i­mal they con­sider sa­cred.

Author­i­ties in In­dia’s most pop­u­lous state, Ut­tar Pradesh, started clos­ing down un­li­censed abat­toirs in March, im­me­di­ately hit­ting pro­duc­tion and sales in the Mus­lim-dom­i­nated meat in­dus­try.

Last month, Modi’s gov­ern­ment also banned trad­ing cat­tle for slaugh­ter, in­clud­ing not just cows, whose killing was al­ready out­lawed in most states, but also buf­falo, an an­i­mal used for meat and leather.

Now the squeeze is spread­ing to oth­ers in the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity and to lower-caste Hin­dus who cart cat­tle, labour in tan­ner­ies and make shoes, bags and belts – in­clud­ing for big name brands such as Zara and Clarks.

Fre­quent at­tacks by right-wing Hin­dus against work­ers they ac­cuse of harm­ing cat­tle have fur­ther rat­tled the in­dus­try.

Much of In­dia’s meat and leather trade takes place in the in­for­mal econ­omy, mean­ing the im­pact of the clos­ing of il­le­gal abat­toirs and ban on trad­ing for slaugh­ter is hard to mea­sure.

But cat­tle mar­kets are re­port­ing a big slow­down in trade and tan­ner­ies a short­age of hides.

Ab­dul Fa­heem Qureshi, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of In­dia’s Mus­lim Qureshi com­mu­nity of butch­ers, said in Ut­tar Pradesh some mar­kets trad­ing 1 000 an­i­mals last year were now down to as few as 100.

The de­cline in pro­duc­tion means fewer jobs for two of In­dia’s poor­est com­mu­ni­ties, and risks in­flam­ing so­cial ten­sions at a time when Modi has vowed to boost em­ploy­ment and ac­cel­er­ate eco­nomic growth ahead of the next gen­eral elec­tion in 2019.

Some large leather man­u­fac­tur­ers sup­port the Ut­tar Pradesh state gov­ern­ment’s move, ar­gu­ing that al­low­ing only li­censed abat­toirs to op­er­ate will clean the in­dus­try’s im­age.

Big­ger ex­porters also say they have enough leather as they source hides widely, in­clud­ing from abroad.

Still, mil­lions work in the meat and leather in­dus­tries, which are worth more than $16 bil­lion (R201bn) in an­nual sales.

Along the nar­row shoe­mak­ing lanes of Agra a crowd of Mus­lims break­ing their Ra­madaan fast gath­ered re­cently, shout­ing an­grily that they were no longer safe to trade buf­falo, buy cow leather for shoes or to do work that their com­mu­nity has done for cen­turies for fear of be­ing at­tacked by Hindu vig­i­lantes.

“They want to weaken us. They want to snatch our bread,” says 66-year-old Mo­ham­mad Muqeem, whose work­ers stitch $3 shoes in his cel­lar, re­fer­ring to the clo­sure of slaugh­ter­houses and re­cent at­tacks on cat­tle traders.

Muqeem’s monthly in­come has halved to $300 since last year as leather has be­come scarce. His dozen ca­sual work­ers, down from 40, now use mostly syn­thetic ma­te­ri­als.


Shoe­mak­ers work in an un­der­ground work­shop in Agra, In­dia.

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