New Delhi (dpa) – Meat sellers walked off the job in one of India’s biggest states Monday, charging that a crackdown on slaughterhouses – sparked by Hindu concerns that sacred cows were being slaughtered clandestinely – has gone too far.
Officially, the crackdown in Uttar Pradesh is against illegal slaughterhouses, which ministers say follows a 2015 order from an environment court.
But the effort has exposed religious differences, as many of the meat sellers are from the minority Muslim community, while the state is run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP came to power in a landslide earlier this month, partially due to an election manifesto that promised action after several of its leaders alleged that some abattoirs were clandestinely slaughtering cows.
Hindus regard the cow as a holy animal. Its slaughter and consumption is banned in most Indian states, including Uttar Pradesh.
The meat sellers said they were going on strike indefinitely. Hindu hardliner Yogi Adityanath, who took office as chief minister following BJP’s landslide win in state polls earlier this month, repeatedly said the action was being taken only against illegal slaughterhouses.
But state meat sellers complain they are being raided and that even licensed slaughter houses have been targeted.
“We decided to intensify our action from today, and all shops will remain closed. Fish sellers too have joined us,” Mubeen Qureshi from the meat-sellers association in the state capital, Lucknow, told reporters.
State minister Siddharth Nath Singh warned officials against being overly zealous in the slaughterhouse inspections and said the government was following orders by the National Green Tribunal.
The ruling came two years ago after environmental activists said illegal slaughterhouses dispose of their waste in violation of environment laws, polluting ground water and spreading disease.
“Police and officials should not be overexcited and behave sensibly,” Singh said. “They should be lenient if there are minor compliance issues like CCTVs not being installed. Else we will take action against them.”
“Vigilantism by police is unacceptable to us,” he added.
Meat-traders however say they have had to shut shop with supplies drying up, adding that the drive had affected livelihoods of tens of thousands of people.
“Some slaughter houses that deal with buffalo meat, which is permitted, has been shutdown. We are upset that only one section of society is being discriminated against,” a meat-seller told news channels in Delhi’s suburbs of Noida, which is in Uttar Pradesh.
Since the BJP came to power in 2014 national polls, there have been several incidents of fringe Hindu groups targeting Muslims for alleged cattle slaughter and beef consumption.
In 2015, a man was killed by a mob in Uttar Pradesh over rumours that his family had killed and eaten a cow sacrificed during Eid-al Adha celebrations.
Muslims are the largest minority in India. They make up 18 per cent of the population in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state, with 200 million inhabitants.