In India’s Western Maharashtra, a ban imposed on beef consumption has been welcomed by Hindu groups linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but slammed by those involved in the business - mostly Muslims. Beef traders say the ban will make tens of thousands people jobless.
As the ban went into effect March 5, several slaughter houses in Maharashtra pulled down their shutters. Beef dishes disappeared from the menu of restaurants, including upscale ones in Mumbai - India’s financial capital.
The BJP, which won control of the western state last year, implemented the ban under a law passed when it ruled the state about 20 years ago but which was never implemented after it lost power.
Under the law, possession or sale of beef could lead to imposition of fines or prison terms of up to five years.
Although cows, considered holy by Hindus, are already protected in the Hindu majority nation, the new law extends the ban to slaughtering bulls, bullocks and calves.
President of The Mumbai Suburban Beef Dealers Association, Mohammad Ali Qureshi, said the ban will snatch the livelihood of tens of thousands of butchers, beef retailers, laborers and others involved in the trade.
He added that many of these people belong to the most socially disadvantaged and poorest sections of society, who have no education to take up other jobs or money to set up alternate businesses.
He said because the ban was imposed so suddenly, people have been rendered jobless without notice.
Domestic beef consumption is mostly restricted to non-Hindus, but in recent years India has emerged as the world’s second biggest exporter of beef, mostly derived from buffaloes.
That status as a beef exporter is not liked by many Hindu groups linked to the ruling BJP. They say under the guise of killing buffaloes and bulls, many cows are being illegally slaughtered.
The general secretary of the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, Venkatesh Abdev, said they will press for a nationwide ban on beef consumption. Similar bans are in place in two other states - Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, both controlled by the BJP.
Abdev agreed that the ban will have an impact on the flourishing beef trade, but said some price has to be paid because slaughtering cattle is an emotional issue for Hindus.
With Muslims controlling most of the beef trade, the ban is likely to acquire political overtones as it emerges as a divisive issue between Hindu and Muslim groups.
Mohammad Shahid Sheikh, president of the beef transporters group in Deonar, where India’s biggest slaughterhouse is located, said incidents of trucks transporting cattle being blockaded have increased in recent months. The attacks are blamed on Hindu activists.
Sheikh said even when people involved in the trade tell those protesting that they are following all the rules, the protesters say they still will not let the animals be slaughtered.
Political analysts say the ban on beef could give more ammunition to critics who accuse the ruling BJP of promoting a Hindu nationalist agenda.
In the run-up to last year’s national elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had criticized the previous Congress government for promoting a “pink revolution to butcher cattle.”
Meanwhile, the beef ban became a top trend on Twitter when it was announced earlier this week. Some supported the move but thousands were critical. Several drew sarcastic comparisons between the progress made on protection of cows to the lack of progress on safety for women saying: “Good to know India is more safe for cows than women,” and "Good to know a cow can now step out after dark and wear what she likes."