New Delhi: With hundreds of families across the country preparing Eid-ul-Azha in the last week of September, the ban on sale of meat, including beef, has come as a huge setback for the traders who were expecting a good business during the festive season.
Akbar Qureshi, a meat trader in the Mankhurd area of Mumbai, is a worried man since the ban on beef came into force in Maharashtra in March this year under the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, 1995. Since then, he has been able to sell very little buffalo meat and is in danger of running out of customers.
"People don't eat buffalo meat that much. I would earlier sell some 100 kilograms of beef daily, but now I hardly sell 40 kilograms of buffalo meat," he said.
Akbar is just one among hundreds of traders, dealers and suppliers whose business has been severely affected by the beef ban in the state.
While Maharashtra and Haryana had banned beef earlier, many other states including Gujarat and Chhattisgarh and cities like Mumbai and its suburbs have recently introduced temporary bans on sale and possession of meat for varying number of days in respect of 'Paryushan,' a Jain fasting season.
The ban on beef comes even as India has emerged as the world's top exporter of beef since last year. As per data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in April this year, India has doubled its beef export from 1.26 million tonnes in 2011-12 to 2.40 million tonnes in 2014-15.
Beef ban means no exports either. Anwar Khan owns Al-Saba exports, a meat exporting company in Mumbai. He is facing huge losses.
"My monthly turnover was around Rs. 2.5 crore. But now I have lost everything and had to fire over 100 employees," said Khan. "We are running short of buffaloes here, due to which it is impossible to do business," he added.
Jammu and Kashmir became the latest addition to this list when the state High Court directed the authorities on September 10 to strictly enforce a 150-year-old erstwhile Dogra-rule-era provision of ban on sale and distribution of beef in the state.
Shabir Ahmad, along with his family, has domesticated a bullock to sacrifice this Eid. He is worried about being able to do that due to the ban.
"I would graze the bullock for hours after my day work and would give fodder to keep him in good health," Shabir said.
Beef is particularly useful since it is cheap and hence bull or bullocks are preferred by many rural families over sheep or goat for the animal sacrifice during the Eid-ul-Azha. Moreover, in religious convention, while a goat or sheep qualifies a single person for the sacrificial obligations, a bovine animal qualifies seven people.
"I can't afford a separate sheep or goat individually for every family member," Ahmad added.
Given the religious implications of the ban, the decision has invited harsh criticism from not only the ordinary Kashmiris but also religious bodies. Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the largest such bodies in the Valley, has termed the decision as totally 'unacceptable'.
G.M. Bhat, Ameer of the Jamaat, said, "It is absolutely not possible to convince the Muslim community to go against their own religion; so we oppose it."
To protest against the ban, the Valley also observed a two-day strike on the call given by the Hurriyat led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. He termed the court's decision as interference in religious affairs.
Geelani said, "If India boasts of being a secular country, then everyone has a right to practice one's religion. However, this controversial decision has taken away the freedom of the Muslims only."
Meanwhile, meat suppliers in the region are now worried about losing their business as the festival season approaches.
Manzoor Ahmad, Anantnag-based supplier, had sold thousands of animals on Eid last year. This year he is looking at a gloomy business scenario.
"Last year, I supplied many animals before the Eid-ul-Azha. If this ban remains, dealers and suppliers will have to face huge business losses," said Ahmad.
Cow is a revered animal for many in the Hindu community, and therefore its slaughter is considered unacceptable by them. Prohibition of cow slaughter is mentioned as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy under Article 48 of the Indian Constitution. The issue, though, has remained largely dormant till recently.
However, recent moves by the BJP-ruled states like Maharashtra and Haryana to cover all bovine animals in the anti-slaughter law and steps by several others to impose temporary meat bans are seen as powerful indicators of the growing influence of the right-wing Hindu organisations since the Narendra Modi government assumed power last year.
(Aijaz Nazir can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)