Members of a Hindu nationalist group have forced several abattoirs in the Indian state of Maharashtra to shut after a law was passed banning the beef trade there, a leader of the group and a lawyer for meat traders said on Wednesday.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, a nationalist group linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party, acted after winning a court order to stop the killing of bulls and bullocks.
“Members of the VHP came to Deonar abattoir late at night and asked us to stop the slaughter, showing the copy of the High Court order,” said Mohammad Ali Qureshi, president of the Bombay Suburban Beef Dealers Association.
Deonar, on the outskirts of Mumbai, is India's largest abattoir. The beef trade is mainly controlled by minority Muslims, raising concern that the ban is driven by Modi loyalists pursuing a Hindu agenda.
President Pranab Mukherjee last week gave his assent to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Bill, which had been pending for 20 years, extending a ban on the killing of cows, considered sacred by Hindus, to bulls and bullocks.
The law calls for up to five years in jail for anyone found in possession of beef, according to media reports.
But the state government - led by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party - said it could take a week to implement the law, prompting the VHP to petition the Bombay High Court on Tuesday for an immediate ban.
“Why wait for another 5 to 6 days, just for paper formalities and the final draft?” asked Vyankatesh Abdeo, all-India secretary of the VHP. “If we would have waited thousands of cattle would have been slaughtered.”
Attacks on the trade have intensified in Maharashtra since the BJP came to power 10 months ago. Modi himself criticized the previous government for promoting a “pink revolution to butcher cattle and export meat.”
Acting on the VHP's appeal, Justice V.M. Kanade on Tuesday ordered the state to ensure that killing of bulls and bullocks is stopped, according to a copy of the order seen by Reuters.
Meat centers across the state, including Deonar, have stopped operating, said Sagheer Khan, a lawyer for All Maharashtra Cattle Merchant Association.
Up to 95 percent of the large-sized cattle slaughtered in Deonar were bulls or bullocks, with the rest being water buffaloes, whose killing is legal.
Beef dealer Qureshi said the ban would cost many jobs and push up prices of buffalo meat.