Just as Donald Trump’s Travel Ban is widely recognised as being a covert ‘Muslim ban,’ Yogi Adityanath’s supposed crackdown on “illegal” abattoirs in Uttar Pradesh is a thinly veiled attack on the Muslims and Dalits whose livelihood depends on the meat business. Since we live in a society of economic and social interdependence, the crackdown will have an adverse impact on diverse sections of people in Uttar Pradesh and India.
The BJP’s manifesto falsely claimed that thanks to illegal slaughter of cows and buffaloes, livestock in Uttar Pradesh has been depleting and milk production has been affected. This is untrue. In fact, the livestock census shows an increase in UP’s buffalo population from 229 lakh in 2003 to 306.25 lakh in 2012. The 2012 livestock census also shows a 6.5 percent increase in Uttar Pradesh cow population from the previous census in 2007. Milk production also shows a 17 percent increase from 24,863 tonnes in 2012 to 29,086 tonnes 2016, according to the national dairy board data. The meat industry and the dairy industry are in fact interdependent. The dairy farmer cannot afford to support unproductive livestock; he depends on being able to sell unproductive animals for slaughter. UP’s buffalo population is on an upswing precisely because slaughterhouses provide an avenue for dairy farmers to dispose of the animals after they become incapable of producing milk. In fact, the fact that 75 percent of buffalo livestock in Uttar Pradesh is female proves that the male animals, which do not produce milk, are being sold by dairy farmers for slaughter. The result is a thriving meat export and leather industry. Unsurprisingly, most of those employed in the meat and leather/tanning industries are Dalits and Muslims. It is they who are worst hit by the Uttar Pradesh Government’s crackdown on “illegal” slaughterhouses. But the crackdown will also hit the dairy industry and milk production badly by making the rearing of milch animals unviable.
The Uttar Pradesh Government claims to be cracking down only on “illegal” slaughterhouses. But the fact remains that in India, a very large number of poor people in all walks of life – such as street vendors, slum dwellers accused of ‘encroachment,’ or pan shops, barber shops and roadside dhabas for instance – survive in ways that are informal – i.e not strictly “legal,” but are not criminal. Similarly in UP and the rest of India, the “legal” slaughterhouses tend to produce meat for export while it is the so-called “illegal” or informal slaughterhouses that produce for local demand. Why are such slaughterhouses “illegal”? The answer lies in the fact that under pressure from the Hindutva vigilantes, UP town planners have failed to provide licenses for slaughterhouses as they are duty bound to; as a result informal and unlicensed slaughterhouses feed the local demand for meat. Slaughterhouses are supposed to comply with a large number of complex and outdated regulations, making it easy to declare any slaughterhouse “illegal” for even a minor infraction.
It is interesting to contrast the enthusiasm of BJP-ruled states for crackdowns on “illegal” slaughterhouses, with their marked reluctance to comply with the Supreme Court’s injunction to ban liquor sale within 500 metres of highways. Several state governments including those of BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have reportedly begin to denotify state highways to circumvent the ban! These governments have cited concerns over the impact of the ban on employment. Why are concerns over employment and revenue valid in the case of liquor ban, but to be rudely and roughly suppressed in the case of the meat ban? Is the BJP’s callousness towards the meat ban’s impact on employment (compared to its concerns for the impact of liquor ban on employment) linked to the fact that the meat industry supports the livelihood of the minority community?
The UP Government is selectively criminalising informal slaughterhouses by branding them as “illegal.” There are widely known illegal practices – such as injection of the banned oxytocin hormone to stimulate milk production – and cruelty to animals in the dairy industry, why is the UP Government which claims to care for the welfare of milch animals choosing not to regulate the dairy industry? The answer lies in the divisive agenda of the UP Government and its new Chief Minister.
After Uttar Pradesh, other BJP-ruled states are also rushing to join the game of cracking down on the meat industry. The Gujarat Government has enacted a law to introduce a life sentence for the slaughter of cows and bulls, thereby equating the slaughter of such cattle with the murder of a human being. The Gujarat CM has further declared his intention to turn Gujarat into a “vegetarian” state. The Chhattisgarh Chief Minister has declared his intention to “hang” those who slaughter cows. The Jharkhand Government too has launched a crackdown on slaughterhouses. These measures are accompanied by a heightened rhetoric declaring the cow to be the “mother” for Hindus and therefore a sacred animal in India. Sangh Parivar vigilante groups, emboldened by such rhetoric, have begun attacking and even burning down slaughterhouses. It is such vigilante mobs that have, in the past few years, lynched several Muslim men to death, stripped and thrashed Dalits in Una, and attacked innumerable Muslim and Dalit people over rumours of ‘cow slaughter.’
The hypocrisy of the BJP’s “cow is our mother” rhetoric already stands widely exposed in many ways. India is one of the biggest beef exporters in the world, and the meat industry gets subsidies from the Government even today. If the cow is indeed the “mother” why does the Government encourage beef exports while criminalising domestic consumption of beef? The Dalits of Una, underlining this hypocrisy, had refused to dispose of cow carcasses, telling caste Hindus “if she is your mother, dispose of her body yourself.” The BJP Governments of Goa and Manipur, recognising that the majority of people in those states consume beef, have made no move to ban cow slaughter or beef consumption in those states. A BJP candidate in a Kerala by-election has been appealing for votes promising “good quality beef supply” – thereby acknowledging that beef is a popular dish in Kerala across communities. These facts go to show that dietary diversity is a reality in India; the BJP opportunistically supports such diversity in states where the majority consumes beef, while seeking to whip up hatred and violence against beef consumption in states where beef consumers are in a minority. The fact that beef consumption is common and popular in these regions of India as well as among several communities in India also exposes the fallacy of Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu’s statement implying that the Indian Constitution prohibits beef consumption. More than 70 per cent of Indians are non-vegetarian – the attempts by Hindutva groups to valourise vegetarian diet and restrict or stigamtise the consumption of meat, eggs or certain kinds of meat like beef, is an attempt to force the majority of Indians to adopt the dietary taboos of the Brahminical elite. The BJP and RSS campaign against cow slaughter and beef/meat consumption is not motivated by concerns for the welfare of animals – their sole motive is to foment social divisions and violence.
By deepening social divisions and keeping such divisions in the spotlight with anti-Romeo squads and crackdown on slaughterhouses, the UP Government and the BJP hope also to deflect attention from their failure to deliver on the promises to waive farm loans and ensure housing for the poor. They hope to deflect attention from the Central Government’s move to open the doors for unlimited corporate funding of political parties. Progressive and democratic forces must expose and challenge the divisive measures and mobilise people in united movements to hold the governments accountable to their promises.