On 21 March, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath imposed a ban on “illegal” and mechanised slaughterhouses running in Uttar Pradesh. These slaughterhouses were dealing mainly with the production of buffalo meat or carabeef, popularly called bade ka gosht, and mutton. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s UP election manifesto had stated that it would take “stern steps to close down all illegal slaughterhouses, besides banning mechanised slaughterhouses”.
Consequently, not only the “illegal” ones, but also the legal slaughterhouses were forcefully closed down without a notification to this effect.
Cow vigilante groups went further and burned down a number of meat shops in Hathras, and forced other people, mainly Muslims, involved in the meat business to shut down their shops in different parts of the state.
Anti-Muslim or Adherence to Hindu Culture?
Interestingly, the BJP, the RSS and other Hindu groups have projected the ban as their overwhelming adherence to the Indian culture of vegetarianism and ‘ahimsa parmo dharma’. It is boldly projected as a step forward in the direction of the ‘Indianisation’ of the Muslim minorities – in line with ‘Hindu’ culture.
On the other hand, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress look at it as a mere anti-Muslim act, which has attacked the essential diet, livelihood and the rights of the Muslim religious minority community.
In both cases, this sudden decision of Adityanath has been widely propagated and perceived as an anti-Muslim act.
There are a few important aspects that need to be highlighted in order to understand the politics of meat in north India. The Muslim Qureshi community has always been portrayed as the most visible face of not only meat production, but also the non-vegetarian or ‘meat-eating’ communities.
In the current political scenario, it is quite obvious to believe that Muslims are the only victims of such a ban, giving this lucrative meat industry a communal colour. The media houses have also contributed to this image formation, ignoring a number of actors belonging to various ‘non-Muslim’ lower-caste, lower-class communities closely associated with the meat industry.
There is no doubt that the Qasab community of the Muslim Qureshi biradari plays a key role in the buffalo meat business since they are directly involved in the slaughtering of large animals.
But there are broadly three important aspects of any meat industry that complete the value chain of its production which needs to be unfolded: the availability of raw material (livestock), meat production, sale/consumption and a number of auxiliary industries, which solely depend on the smooth running of meat business.
A 2004 report by FICCI, titled ‘An Overview of Buffalo Meat Value Chain’, explains that buffalo meat industry is based on the economic interdependence of a number of traditional communities.
The following table demonstrates the roles of different actors in the domestic value chain of buffalo meat production, including cattle farmers who rear animals for the dairy sector and for meat production, and traders who buy animals from farmers, butchers, wholesale meat dealers and retailers.
Dependence of Different Sections of Society on Meat Industry
There are a number of other unseen but important actors who are involved in the different stages of meat production. It includes the transporters, the keepers who look after animals in slaughterhouses, the municipal veterinary doctors who conduct ante-mortem and postmortem inspections, the sanitary staff appointed by the municipality, the rickshaw pullers who deliver meat for wholesale meat dealers to the retailers and so on and so forth.
These different actors belong to different religious communities and caste groups.
The farmers are usually Hindu or Sikh depending on different regions. Same is the case with other actors whose livelihoods depend on the meat industry and who suffer whenever there is a ban on the meat business.
The following charts show the role of these key actors in the domestic and the export value chains of buffalo meat production. A boom in the export of buffalo meat resulted in the emergence of a number of municipal and private slaughterhouses, increasing the production of meat to a much higher level.
These developments have also increased the number of people depending on the meat business at all these stages. Thus, it is difficult to call the ban as merely an anti-Muslim move.
A close observation of buffalo or any other meat value chain explains that even the specific act of the slaughtering of animals is not limited to Muslim Qureshis, as it is falsely projected by the political parties and media reports. In fact, a big proportion of Khatik and Bhadik communities are involved at this stage of meat business in different parts of India, including Uttar Pradesh.
These communities provide jhatka meat to different consumers belonging to Hindu, Sikh and sometimes Christian religious groups. The following table explains the role of different religious and regional caste groups, their origin, and the kind of slaughter of animals they perform.
It explains that some of the Qasab community members are actually Khatik converts who adopted Islam only a few generations back. Even Muslim Qasabs are generally called Khatiks in some of parts of the state among Muslims.
Many Other Industries Rely on the Meat Business
The third important aspect of the meat industry is the existence of a number of auxiliary industries that rely completely on meat production and a whole range of products and actors are involved at all levels. Meat is supplied to individual customers, restaurants, hostels, hotels, airlines and to the railways.
Apart from the trajectory of animals from slaughterhouse to the meat shops and restaurants, there is, according to an estimate, around 168 auxiliary industries that rely on the meat business.
The by-products, like horns, skin, offal, bones, intestine, blood and fat are sold and supplied at different stages to neighbouring areas, where they are processed initially and then sold to factories. It includes the lucrative leather industry, the soap industry (manufacturing of shampoo, conditioners, moisturisers and whole range of cosmetics), poultry feed, handicraft, fish feed, wool, gelatin, cooking oil, bristles and so on.
Although these industries developed only after the 1970s, a number of units were associated traditionally with businesses like hide processing, tanneries, soap manufacturing and so on, with different occupational communities like Chamars, Balmikis, Dhanuks and Muslims working closely.
In this sense, a slaughterhouse that is projected as a site for meat production only, and that too only for Muslims, is actually a hub for a number of small and large industries. This kind of politicisation and communalisation of an economic activity has always provided a fertile ground for competitive politics.
Thus, there is a need to unfold the various layers of the meat industry in order to counter conventional politics and at the same time, to save a lucrative industry and its unorganised labourers from further suffering.
Most importantly, one needs to underline the fact that religious identity cannot be an entry point to understand the politics of meat. There is an interesting caste and class dimension that is to be highlighted.
(Nazima Parveen is a PhD scholar at the School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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