Yogi’s Beef With Meat and the Bones of Contention

How has the Yogi sarkar’s crackdown on slaughterhouses impacted UP’s meat industry? The Quint travelled more than 250 kilometres from the national capital, to the city of Bareilly, to get to the meat of the matter.

For a country used to complaining that politicians don’t deliver on campaign promises, the Yogi government comes as an exception. First, the anti-Romeo squads and then, the crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses – the speed with which Adityanath has moved on two of his manifesto’s flagship promises has delighted his supporters.

More than half of Uttar Pradesh’s licensed slaughterhouses have been “temporarily” shut down for not following norms. The shutters are down on dozens of illegal abattoirs as well.

Outside the Hanuman Mandir at Civil Lines, Bareilly, 60-year-old Brij Mohan is confident that Adityanath is a Prime Minister in waiting. (Photo: The Quint)

But not everyone in Uttar Pradesh is overjoyed.

They talk of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ but that’s not what they are doing. The government is snatching away livelihoods, the daily bread of the Qureshi community.

In the three decades that 62-year-old Mohammad Yunus has been rearing and selling buffaloes, he has seen many governments come and go. So what drives him to level such a serious allegation against the new Yogi sarkar?

'A Climate of Fear and Extortion'

Yunus responds, “The police are stopping our vehicles and demanding bribes. Yes, it’s happened before, but now, it’s on an unprecedented scale.”

55-year-old Mohammad Aslam, a bufallo seller from Faridpur, claims, “Recently, there have been instances of the police stopping our tempos and then others arriving and seizing our buffaloes.”

Mohammad Yunus, Buffalo Seller We used to transport 12-13 buffaloes a day to the slaughterhouse. But because of the fear and extortion, now we take just 1-2, and on some days, none. This is Yogi Adityanath’s way of targeting Muslims.

“If you’re taking away our trade, then the government must give us something in return too, right? Give us jobs, or lands to till?”

A Vegetarian’s Empathy

Among all the people you’d expect to support Yunus’ demand, an upper-caste Hindu gentleman who swears by his vegetarian diet and respect for the gau mata would likely be the last. But as I discuss state politics with a Bareilly resident who fits that bill, he says he’s certain there is a Hindutva agenda behind the Yogi government’s moves on the meat industry.

He adds, with a distinct wariness:

Look at the speeches Yogi has made in the past. That is what he is made of, and that is not going anywhere. And now, he has the might of the state behind him. We must think about what will happen to the butchers and their families. And all the other Muslims involved in the trade. They have families too. 

The buffalo sellers we meet say they wouldn’t want to hurt Hindu sentiments either.

Uvais Qureshi, Buffalo SellerIf it is a cow (being slaughtered), let them hang us. Because we do not support the killing of cows either.  

But what about claims of cow meat being available in the state, for those who know where to find it?

There are certain Hindus and Muslims who do sell cow meat illegally. They are giving all of us a bad name and spoiling our business.

The buffalo sellers are unanimous in saying that their grievance does not arise from Yogi’s crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses. But they allege that even those functioning legally are being targeted. In the first ten days of inspections, as many as nine legal slaughterhouses in the Bareilly zone were closed down.

Uvaiz argues, “The government is cracking down even on those slaughterhouses that are functioning legally. And that is hurting us financially. I am selling a tenth of what I sold before.”

Tariq Qureshi, a 40-year-old buffalo seller from Bareilly, sums it up, “Let Yogi act against what is illegal, but why is he acting against what is legal?”

IG Bareilly: Cops Must Not Overstep Their Mandate

IG Bareilly, Vijay Prakash, does not altogether rubbish the allegations of policemen stopping buffalo sellers and asking for bribes. “There must be some policemen on the ground doing nonsensical things. But it has gone down. If you say that at some places, this is going on, we will look into it.”

Responding to complaints of legal slaughterhouses facing the brunt of the crackdown as well, Prakash admits:

In parts of UP, there are complaints of the inspection committee overstepping. I heard of a sub-inspector saying, “If you don’t have buffalo or mutton, why can’t you have chicken?” He has no business to say that. So, policemen too have been instructed again to not act in such a manner.

“The committee headed by the District Magistrate, which is inspecting the various slaughterhouses, should not shut abattoirs based on frivolous reasons.”

Bareilly Ke Bazaar Mein, Mutton Goes Missing

A city abattoir, set up and run by Bareilly’s municipal authority and used solely to slaughter goats was shut down on the 25th of March for not having clearances. With the only other municipality-run abattoir in Bareilly having been shut a year and a half ago for modernisation, mutton traders say they now have nowhere to go to slaughter their goats.

150 restaurants and 200 mutton shops are on a ten-day strike against the closure of the abattoir at Shahdana Chowraha, claims Nadeem Qureshi, the man helming the protest. Shutters down, Nadeem’s restaurant, Zayka Chicken & Kabab Corner, bears a desolate look on an otherwise busy Thursday evening.

The meat market at Shahmat Ganj is no better. Even those looking to buy chicken return disappointed, as every meat shop is closed in protest.

Meat shops on strike in Bareilly (Photo: The Quint)

Nadeem Qureshi, Kabab Shop OwnerWe’ve submitted a complaint letter to the District Magistrate against shutting down the slaughterhouse at Shahdana Chowraha. This needs to be resolved at the soonest.

Mutton shop owner, Mohammad Nazin, says “We have many Hindu customers buying mutton from us. We can’t go to the private slaughterhouse with our goats because they slaughter buffaloes there as well. Hindu customers won’t buy our meat if we get it cut there. So we need the municipal slaughterhouse to reopen.”

Nisar Ahmad, Mutton Shop Owner in Bareilly’s Shahmatganj If the municipal slaughterhouse was not following rules, it is the municipality’s responsibility to fix it. Why are we being made to suffer for what is their fault?

The Quint asked that exact question to Sheeldhar Yadav, Commissioner of Bareilly’s municipal corporation.

“Yes, the slaughterhouse was shut as it did not have the requisite clearances. But we are working hard to ensure that the other slaughterhouse, which was shut a year ago, to be modernised, can be opened in a few months. The demands of the meat traders will therefore be met soon.”

But is soon, soon enough?

Bareilly's Biggest Slaughterhouse Running at Less Than Half Its Capacity

On the city outskirts, in Mohanpur, is Marya Frozen Agro Foods’ vast mechanised abattoir. Built to cater to the company’s high export demands, the slaughterhouse has so far passed the inspections of the new government. Yet, Marya too is facing the heat.

Officials there claimed that usually, buffaloes would be slaughtered at the plant from 8 am to 7 pm. But when The Quint visited the abattoir, the slaughtering sections of the plant were empty by 1 pm.

Marya Frozen Agro Foods’ abattoir in Bareilly has stopped work by 1 pm. (Photo: The Quint)

Haji Shakeel Qureshi, Chairman, Marya Frozen Agro Foods and representative, All India Meat AssociationA thousand buffaloes are slaughtered daily here. Now, it’s down to 350-400 buffaloes a day. A huge plant running at less than half its capacity. The cops are harassing people who are transporting buffaloes. So production has crashed.

Wealthy and influential, Haji Shakeel Qureshi needs no introduction in Bareilly. The proprietor of the city’s largest slaughterhouse was part of the delegation of meat traders that met the CM and his Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh in Lucknow on the 30th of March.

Before meeting the CM, even I thought the move against slaughterhouses was to target Muslims. But the CM assured us that he is here to work for people of all religions.

But Qureshi doesn’t mince words on the losses that the industry is currently suffering.

In just ten days, the meat industry in UP has had losses of 75 crore rupees. Three crore people in the state are affected by the crackdown. Even legal slaughterhouses are being shut. The government is losing a lot of revenue too.

On the problems being faced by Bareilly’s mutton traders, Qureshi says, “Till the civic authorities get the clearances for the municipal slaughterhouses, the local administration has asked us to help by allowing people to get their goats and buffaloes slaughtered at our abattoir, so that a law and order situation doesn’t arise. So currently, traders can come to our slaughterhouse and get the work done.”

Now, Demands for a Gau Mantralaya and a Meat Ban During Navratri

Ashish Sharma of the Vishwa Hindu Sena’s Gau Raksha Vahini demands a complete meat ban during Navratri. (Photo: The Quint)

Ashish Sharma is the District President of the Vishwa Hindu Sena’s Gau Raksha Vahini. The self-styled vigilante cow protection group welcomes the new government’s actions against slaughterhouses. But is quick to remind us that their members continue to keep a close watch on the roads.

Ashish Sharma, Bareilly District President of the Vishwa Hindu Sena’s Gau Raksha VahiniWe stop any vehicle that we suspect has a cow inside. If it does, we call the police. Let those in the vehicle explain why cows are being transported. But we let vehicles transporting buffaloes pass.

The Quint asked Sharma from where his Vahini derived the authority to stop and search vehicles.

“Once the cops asked us that too. I said I'm part of the Vishwa Hindu Sena’s Gau Raksha Vahini and showed the police our IDs. That was that.”

But Sharma is upset on hearing reports that the BJP is not making a beef ban a poll promise in the election-bound states of the North-East.

It is wrong that the BJP is not talking about a beef ban in the North-East. Cow slaughter and consumption of beef should be banned across India, from Goa to Tripura, Nagaland and Mizoram. We will write a letter to PM Modi about this.

The Gau Raksha Vahini also has two key demands from the Yogi Adityanath administration.

We will petition this UP government to create a separate Gau Mantralaya or Cow Ministry. Also, we demand a total ban on all types of meat during both Navratris and the entire month of Sawan.

60-year-old Brij Mohan, a garland seller outside the Hanuman Mandir at Civil Lines, thinks along similar lines. “The selling of meat itself is wrong, and municipal authorities should no longer be running slaughterhouses. Why should they? All of this should be stopped.”

I remind Brij Mohan that even within the Hindu fold, there are large numbers of non-vegetarians, including most Dalits. He responds brusquely:

God has created many things to eat. Will people die if they don’t eat one particular thing? Let the butchers and those in this trade seek a different job. If required, the government should help them seek new professions.

'Notebandi Yaad Hai?'

51-year-old Bareilly resident Peter Masi is a Christian. Surprisingly enough, he too is vegetarian. Laughing at my incredulity, he says “Not all five fingers of the hand are the same. Similarly, not all Christians eat meat!”

Bareilly resident Peter Masi compares Adityanath’s crackdown on slaughterhouses to PM Modi’s demonetisation drive. (Photo: The Quint)

Peter is optimistic. “Things will come back to normal again, don't worry. The municipal corporation will have to reopen its slaughterhouse. The clearances and paperwork will come through and the abattoirs will open their gates again.”

The crackdown on meat is like notebandi. Of course there were problems, but then we came back to normal, didn’t we?