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Hundreds of meat shops have been shut down across UP
Hundreds of meat shops have been shut down across UP

Cracking down on the meat industry was one of the first things the new Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath did after being sworn in, playing up to his hardline Hindutva image. The state administration has initiated a strict crackdown on slaughterhouses, packaging plants, meat retailers and restaurants. Any establishment unable to produce the gamut of licenses required to operate is being shut down – an unprecedented move in what was a largely unorganised industry till now. The vehemence of the administration’s actions has thrown the entire meat value chain in Uttar Pradesh into a tizzy, with exporters, butchers and anyone involved in the industry fearful for their future.

In the week since the new Bharatiya Janata Party government was sworn in, it has sealed 12 buffalo slaughterhouses and arrested 43 people for allegedly smuggling cattle. Moreover, the Uttar Pradesh police across the state has stopped butchers and meat vends from operating without licenses, which has meant a shortage even of goat and chicken meat.

The crackdown has engendered enough fear amongst people involved in the meat value chain that even establishments operating entirely legally are facing disruption. The governmentrun Agra municipal slaughter-house is technically open but is seeing very few people bring in animals for slaughter. At the state-of-art Allana meat processing plant on the outskirts of Aligarh, liaison manager Kuldeep Singh said, there was a sharp dip in volumes. “Earlier we would get 700-800 animals a day. Now just 100-150,” Singh said. “People are scared to bring their buffalos in since they might get attacked on the road by vigilantes.”

The effect of this panic on India’s meat export industry is significant. “There is so much uncertainty now that many exporters have stopped taking further orders and are struggling to meet their current contracts,” says DB Sabharwall, secretary-general of the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters’ As-sociation. India is the world’s largest exporter of meat with buffalo meat export valued at $4 billion. Uttar Pradesh is the largest contributor to that figure with approximately half of the $4 billion coming from the state. “The state government does not realise the harm they are doing to the economy,” said Sabharwall.

Local slaughter of goats, chickens and buffalo has always existed in Uttar Pradesh and the sudden, unprecedented clampdown has thrown butchers into shock. In Shamli district, butchers have been arrested even for preparing to slaughter a buffalo and the police have even raided marriage feasts, charging people with buying unlicensed buffalo meat.

The raids have extended themselves to eateries in Muslim localities. In Agra, the owner of Labaik, a small diner, has had his restaurant license checked by the police after the new government came to power. “Yeh to sirf pareshan karne ke liye hai,” said the diner’s owner, Mohammad Imran. “This is only to harass us.”

The vehemence and speed of the meat crackdown has resulted in allegations of the meat industry being singled out unfairly. “The meat industry is being targeted. No other industry is scrutinised so minutely,” said DB Sabharwall, secretary-general of the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters’ Association.

Given the over regulated nature of India, what is legal and illegal is often an arbitrary decision, Sabharwall pointed out, which depends on the administration in power and not rule of law. “You need 24 licenses and no objection certificates to run a slaughterhouse in Uttar Pradesh,” Sabharwall said. “Even if one is not there, the government is using that to immediately seal the plant.”

Muslims, who form the bulk of the industry’s workers and capitalists, feel targeted. “It’s clear that the BJP is taking revenge on Muslims after the election,” said Mohammed Amjad, whose small chicken shop has been shut as a result of the crackdown. Imran in Agra asked, “Is the police also raiding restaurants and shops in Hindu areas? Or are we the only ones who have to follow the law?”

Now, following the crackdown on slaughterhouses and the harassment unleashed by the anti-Romeo squad, the mayor of Meerut has read the riot act to those who refused to sing Vande Mataram at the beginning of the Nagar Nigam board meeting in the city.

Mayor Harikant Ahluwalia allegedly didn’t let seven corporators take part in a meeting after they refused to participate in the singing of the national song. He has also allegedly declared that anyone who doesn’t comply with this rule won’t be allowed to cross the threshold of the board room or join meetings.

The decision has, understandably, enraged some members of the council, which has around 80 members, for its undemocratic overtone.

According to The Times of India, the recital of the national song is a longstanding tradition at the Meerut Nagar Nigam, though under the Samajwadi Party government, those wishing to leave the room during the performance were allowed to do so and join in once it was over. Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has come to power, the rules seemed to have changed drastically: either sing along with the rest or be effectively expelled from the body.

The situation came to a boiling point on Tuesday as some members, mostly Muslims, were leaving the room before the recital of the national song commenced. They were informed by some BJP members that “Hindustan mein rehna hai to Vande Mataram kehna hoga (If you want to live in India, you have to sing Vande Mataram).” To placate the enraged majority, the mayor was allegedly forced to pass a resolution through voice votes to make the singing of the national song mandatory at the council.

In his defence, Ahluwalia argued that the majority had no objection to singing Vande Mataram, though it doesn’t stand up to logic. The recital of the national song is not mandated by any law of the land, unlike the national anthem that requires all citizens to stand up while it is performed. The Supreme Court made the playing of the national anthem compulsory before screening of movies in theatres across India and set guidelines for citizens to behave themselves during the 52-seconds for which it runs.

Two significant developments have taken place with regard to the question of building Ram temple at Ayodhya since Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

A group of Muslims is now supporting the construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya
A group of Muslims is now supporting the construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya

Yogi Adityanath, an ardent votary of building Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, has taken oath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and the Supreme Court has suggested out of court settlement of the title suit.

Now, some Muslim organisations have put out big banners in Lucknow supporting construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya. They claim that the hoardings and banners were put out after the Supreme Court called for amicable settlement of the dispute through dialogue between the parties.

Interestingly, the BJP is yet to spell out its own plan of action for Ram temple at Ayodhya. The party had included the issue in its poll manifesto and Yogi Adityanath had also promised to move in that direction if the BJP was voted to power. He went on to swear in as the UP Chief Minister.

Azam Khan, the president of Sri Ram Mandir Nirman Muslim Kar Sevak Manch, put out 10 these hoardings across Lucknow to move forward in the direction as ‘suggested’ by the Supreme Court.

Azam Khan set up a group of like-minded Muslims post-Supreme Court’s advice. He has been trying to build a consensus on the issue within the community.

Flanked by two gun-wielding private guards, Azam Khan has no hesitation chanting Jai Shree Ram. He says Ram is as respectable to Muslims as to any Hindu.

A fairly large number of youths have joined him. The group minces no words criticising the religious leaders of both communities for driving a wedge between two communities by raking up the issue.

Azam Khan says that he has been getting constant threat calls for taking the ‘bold’ step.