The state’s new chief minister Yogi Adityanath promised to close illegal slaughterhouses in the recent election. Sellers complain that the authorities have also shut down legal ones. Sacred in Hinduism, cows are a major source of revenue for minorities. India’s meat exports are worth US $ 4 billion a year, employing 2.5 million people in Uttar Pradesh alone.
Lucknow (AsiaNews) – The first consequences of the stunning victory by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the election of a Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in the state elections of 11 March have been the closure of abattoirs and butchers shop, the lack of meat in restaurants, universities and canteens across the state, putting at risk the lives of Muslims and Christian breeders who raise and butcher livestock (cows, buffaloes, sheep and goats) for their meat.
During the election campaign, the new chief minister, a Mahant or head priest of the Gorakhnath Math, a Hindu temple in Gorakhpur, with numerous allegations against him, promised to shut down illegal slaughterhouses to protect cows, considered sacred in Hinduism. In fact, the authorities are closing down legal abattoirs slaughtering sheep and goats, in theory exempt from the ban.
Those working in the meat processing industry complain that this will particularly affect the state’s Muslim population, 18 per cent out of more than 200 million people. This is fuelling growing resentment in the meat industry with some calling for a general strike.
The state legislature has backed the government’s decision. With 325 seats out of 403 won in the recent election, the ruling coalition passed the measure as soon Yogi Adityanath was sworn in as chief minister.
Its impact has been immediate leading traders and butchers to complain that they are unable to earn a living and feed their families. "I have no money since my shop shut two weeks ago,” said Shakeel Ahmad, 52, the sole breadwinner for a family of ten. “I don't know how to feed my children and aging parents. Is it because I am a Muslim, or a meat trader?"
The ban on unauthorised slaughterhouses was one of Adityanath’s electoral promises. Cows are sacred in Hinduism. Many Indian states have restrictions on selling and consuming beef.
However, the mere suspicion of illegally slaughtering a cow can trigger acts of extreme violence, such as the murder of a Muslim man two years ago, who was lynched in Uttar Pradesh by an angry mob of Hindu extremists who had accused him of eating beef. After an investigation that lasted several months, it was discovered that he had eaten buffalo meat, not beef.
Given such a background and after the arson of five butcher shops last week, many meat sellers now fear other episodes of violence. "Meat sellers are worried over the crackdown on slaughterhouses and this is creating a shortage. Butchers are afraid of slaughtering buffaloes and this has adversely hit their livelihood," lamented Mr Mubeen Qureshi of the Lucknow Bakra Gosht Vypar Mandal or Goat Meat Chamber of Commerce.
Many of butcher shops, despite having valid licenses, have been forced to close down after several police raids. Shopkeepers also note that the shutdown has also been detrimental to Hindus who like sheep meat.
If Hinduism bans the eating of cows, for many non-Hindus, cows are crucial for their livelihood, starting with Christians employed in tanneries. Millions of poor people eat buffalo meat, which costs much less (120 rupees or US$ 1.84 per kg) than goat meat (450 rupees or US$ 7 per kg).
India is the world’s largest exporter of beef and buffalo meat, a business worth close to US$ 4 billion, half in Uttar Pradesh where about 2.5 million people work in the meat industry.