In Retrospect

Meat-dependent industries feel the pinch

Rahul Singh writes how various industries in Uttar Pradesh have been affected by the crackdown on slaughterhouses in the state, and what is the belief behind the idea of ban on buffalo and cow meat.

Meat ban has proved to be an eye-opener for those who propagandise India being a secular and democratic state. The crackdown on illegal meat shops and slaughterhouses was ordered by the newly formed BJP government led by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh. But though it was supposed to be a ban on illegal buffalo slaughterhouses, from last month until date, officials have put it on the wrong track by shutting down licensed meat shops and legal goat abattoirs too, in Uttar Pradesh, in the name of cracking down on unlicensed slaughterhouses.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) election manifesto for the assembly election had promised to shut all illegal slaughterhouses in the state. But "over-enthusiastic" officials — who appeared to be acting indiscriminately, shutting down even abattoirs with licenses — are now being reined in by the government, according to some media reports.

Lucknow's fabled Tunday Kababi was shut on March 22, citing lack of buffalo meat. Many tourists, who visit Lucknow, as well as locals, look forward to trying the very palatable meat kebabs, among other delicacies, at the city's famous Tunday Kababi. But non-vegetarian foodies now must compromise their experience, given the recent circumstances. Even though the eatery got back in service from March 23, Instead of selling buffalo meat kebabs now, they are advertising "chicken and mutton kebabs". Tunday Kababi, established in 1905, is part of the extremely popular food culture of the old city of Nawabs. While this crackdown against illegal meat shops might or might not help the new government's drive against cow smuggling in UP, it's a huge fiasco for foodies and tourists who want to taste nawabi Lucknow cuisine. The owner of Tunday Kababi has reportedly shared concerns that without the buffalo meat kababs, his earnings are likely to take a hit. Another outlet famous for its non-vegetarian delicacies in Lucknow, Alishma foods, is also facing a similar problem since the crackdown on slaughterhouses and meat selling shops post formation of the new government. The closure of Uttar Pradesh's slaughterhouses could leave a couple of million people jobless in the state, affect its allied industries and choke small but important revenue streams for its poor farmers, especially in drought-prone areas, according to an analysis of available data on India's meat, leather and livestock industries. Half of Uttar Pradesh's licensed slaughterhouses and scores of illegal ones have been shut down.

The drive against slaughterhouses could impact three critical industries, namely - meat packaging, livestock and leather. With some of the worst development indicators, stagnant agriculture and industry, India's most populous state is also one of its poorest with the second-highest unemployment rate — after Jharkhand — among eight most socio-economically backwards states. Meat-packing and leather industries make up the major share of India's export earnings, with Uttar Pradesh contributing significantly. It accounted for nearly 43 per cent of buffalo meat exports in 2015-16, the highest among all states, according to data published by the Agriculture and Processed Food Export Development Authority (APEDA). Leather ranks eighth among India's top export earners, with about 46 per cent of what is produced being exported, according to the Council for Leather Exports (CLE). A third of these exports go from Kanpur in UP, a city where the leather industry is already in crisis.

Here is a look at the three industries that will be highly affected by the campaign.

Meat: UP accounts for 43 per cent of India's buffalo meat exports, but the illegal slaughterhouses being targeted by the government dominate the meat market in India. While 4,000 slaughterhouses are registered, more than 25,000 are not, among units that cater to the domestic market, according to APEDA. Even in the export market, registered and unregistered slaughterhouses both produce meat, APEDA acknowledges. Uttar Pradesh is the largest producer of meat in India, according to the Agriculture Statistics Report, 2015. In 2014-15, it contributed 21 per cent of the meat produced in India. Of the 75 slaughterhouses registered with the APEDA for meat export, as many as 49 are in Uttar Pradesh.

Buffalo meat is a major export material from India, going to more than 40 countries. Uttar Pradesh has recorded the highest buffalo meat export, followed by Maharashtra. In 2015-16, India exported 13.14 lakh metric tonnes (MT) buffalo meat worth Rs 26,685.42 crore. There is no reliable estimate of people employed in Uttar Pradesh's slaughterhouses and meat shops, but it is likely to be in tens of thousands. Around 6.7 million are employed in the country's food-processing industry, which includes slaughterhouses and meat processing units, according to the Agriculture Statistics, 2015.

UP recorded 14 per cent growth, indicating economic dependence – Livestock is an important economic resource, especially in rural areas. Cattle, buffalo, goat and sheep are maintained by agricultural families, mostly those with small land holdings, and by landless labourers who use them primarily for milk and also meat. Cattle are also loaned for agriculture and transportation. Poor families sell stray cattle to butchers. In drought-affected areas, such as parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, cattle are often sold to tide over economic crises.

Leather: Majority of employees from disadvantaged communities work in the leather industries– The Indian leather industry provides formal and informal employment to 2.5 million people, mostly from disadvantaged communities: A third of leather workers are women and a fourth are scheduled castes and tribes. Leatherworkers who are not from traditional tanning communities or are non-Muslims come from poor agricultural families, according to a study by the Centre for Education and Communication (CEC), an advocacy.

The battle for the cow in India is not a health issue, but a majoritarian attempt to thrust its beliefs on the country, something seen by the minorities as an attempt to break the secular fabric and eventually reduce the minorities to an insignificant political cluster. The cow is also being used as a symbol to enforce Hindu unity or a culturally homogenous population which will stand by the BJP always.

Well-known critic Pankaj Mishra in his review of DN Jha's 'The Myth of the Holy Cow' wrote in The Guardian in 2012: "For these Hindus (the newly emergent middle-class Hindus), the cause for banning slaughter became a badge of identity, part of their quest for political power in post-colonial India. Educated Muslims felt excluded from, even scorned by, these Hindu notions of the Indian past; and they developed their own separatist fantasies." Therefore, the idea of using the cow as a unifier for this diverse country is not exactly new. Since the BJP assumed power, the cow has again been identified as a potent symbol to show minorities their place. Unfortunately apart from the higher castes, the middle and lower segments of Hindus have no opposition to cow beef. Minorities were the ones majorly engaged in the business of cows farming and milk. As the cow stops milking, they are sold to the slaughter houses.

Most of all what pulls down the Hindu nationalist campaign is the theological confusion about the cow, all the way from the Vedic era. This agenda or the cow as a holy animal does not stand the test of rigorous research. DN Jha exposes the truth in his book 'Myth of the Holy Cow': Animal sacrifices were very common, the most important of them being the famous 'Asvamedha' and 'Rajasuya'. These and several other major sacrifices involved the killing of animals including cattle, which constituted the chief form of wealth of the early Aryans. Not surprisingly, they prayed for cattle and sacrificed them to propitiate their gods. D Kosambi in his classic book 'Ancient India' wrote: "A modern orthodox Hindu would place beef-eating on the same level as cannibalism, whereas Vedic Brahmins had fattened upon a steady diet of sacrificed beef." The issue is ancient.

Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire saw this diversity in beliefs quite early and wrote in 1529 to his son Humayun, in one of his testaments: "The realm of Hindustan is full of diverse creeds. Praise be to God, the Righteous, the Glorious, the Highest, that He had granted unto you the Empire of it. It is but proper that you, with a heart cleansed of all religious bigotry, should dispense justice according to the tenets of each community. And in particular refrain from the sacrifice of cow, for that way lies the conquest of the hearts of the people of Hindustan; and the subjects of the realm will, through royal favour, be devoted to you." But rather ironically, Ashoka the great unifying emperor did not ban the slaughter of cows. This divergence of views has made the elevation of the cow as a nationalist's project, a rather onerous task over the centuries. To see the meat ban in perspective, we must move beyond today's politics and look at a larger truth. For much too long, liberals have allowed religious groups to hijack the agenda by turning a blind eye. If all of us had stood up and said that religion and politics do not mix, we would not be in this mess today.
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