MUMBAI — Thirty-five-year old Praveen Kumar worked as a deliveryman at a slaughter house, carrying meat to retail markets around Mumbai. But last month, he lost his job when the slaughterhouse was shut down following the state government’s new ban on beef.
“Here I was earning about $7 a day, and life had become much easier. I was able to keep my wife and three children happy," he said. "But with this ban now I can’t even afford two proper meals for my family and my children may also have to leave school because I can’t pay the fees.”
Selling or consuming beef in the western region now comes with a maximum punishment of five years in jail or a fine of is more than $150.
Eknath Khadse, a local minister from the ruling BJP party argues the ban was necessary. “After all, we live in India and for most of us the cow is sacred," he said. "Hindus also live in Pakistan but cow slaughter ban cannot be imposed there because the majority there is Muslim, and the government will respect their sentiment. Similarly, the Hindu sentiment in India has to be respected.”
Many Hindus consider cows a holy animal and worship it, and their slaughter is already prohibited in most Indian states. But the extension of the ban now to cover bulls and bullocks, the major sources of beef, will hit India’s growing meat industry hard.
Meat suppliers in Mumbai have gone on strike in protest against the government’s decision. But according to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, the central government is now planning to introduce the ban throughout the country.
“How can we allow cow slaughter to go on in this country? We will do everything in our power to stop it and we will also try our level best to build a national consensus on the issue,” he said.
Many accuse the ruling Hindu nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of imposing a religious agenda on a secular and multicultural society.
Opposition member of Parliament Derrick O’ Brian raised the issue in Parliament challenging the constitutional validity of the law.
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Beef butcher in Kolkata. Photo: Biswarup Ganguly
“Let me give you the four-letter word, its "beef" and it’s called the poor-man’s protein because there are a lot of people besides minorities, a lot of Dalits, a lot of people from the northeast and a lot of people from across the country who eat this meat," he said.
"Please let’s not remove the diversity of this country; I respect anyone else’s right to eat vegetables, fish, chicken and mutton, that’s perfectly all right but if you tell me to eat a particular meat you are trying to change the fabric of this great nation and you don’t have to change the constitution to change the fabric of this country.”
Ritu Dalmia owns a restaurant in Mumbai, and she has removed beef from the menu after the ban came into effect but can’t understand the rationale behind the decision.
“I hate to say it, most of the people who come and order beef in any restaurant in a modern city are actually Hindu. So it is really a bit ridiculous to say the ban on beef is because of religious sentiment,” she said.
India is the world’s second largest beef exporter and also the second largest producers of leather foot wear and leather garments. Hundreds of thousands of people earn a living from these industries and are now staring at a bleak future after the ban.
Even the farmers, who the government says will be the biggest beneficiaries of the ban, are strongly opposing it. “Banning cow slaughter actually means killing the farmer," said farmer leader Raghunath Patil. "The export of meat brings income into the country, so it’s a chain of interdependent people. It’s a purely economic issue which is unnecessarily being given a religious color for political gain.”