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.
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.”
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
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