Move to enforce beef ban in Indian state fuels unrest

A police officer being blocked from shutting down a poultry stall in Mumbai amid a ban on the sale of meat. In a sign of the growing clout of Hindu groups, two states have enforced bans or curbs on beef.
A police officer being blocked from shutting down a poultry stall in Mumbai amid a ban on the sale of meat. In a sign of the growing clout of Hindu groups, two states have enforced bans or curbs on beef.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A fresh move to enforce a forgotten 83-year-old beef ban in Jammu and Kashmir has fuelled protests in the northern state. The ban, coming on top of similar restrictions in two other states ruled by the the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have outraged critics who contend that Hindu nationalists are trying to dictate the eating habits of Indians along religious lines.

In Muslim-majority Kashmir, protests have broken out since the Jammu and Kashmir High Court last Thursday asked the authorities to strictly enforce a beef ban, which had been all but forgotten since it was officially introduced in 1932. The order came after a lawyer filed a public interest litigation seeking enforcement of the ban.

Though most Muslims in the state prefer mutton over beef, which is eaten more in rural areas as it is cheaper, the issue has become a possible political flashpoint.

Last Saturday, shops were shut and traffic remained off the road afterseparatists issued protest calls.

Separatist leaders, who were put under house arrest by the authorities to prevent trouble, called the ban an "interference in religious affairs". Even the ruling People's Democratic Party, which is in alliance with the BJP, said it opposes a ban in Kashmir, a state that has been rocked by militant activity.

Party spokesman Waheed-ur- Rehman Para said: "If you codify food, it will be a whole controversy. People will question the legitimacy of the state."

Muslims were facing the problem of radicalisation, he noted, and such acts could benefit militants.

"People should eat what they want to eat. This is a country where people live in diversity," he added.

"Where are we heading with this ban on meat? This is a controversial issue. It is better the state remains out of it.''

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to protect the cow when he was running for election last year. The cow is regarded as holy by Hindus, who make up just under 80 per cent of the population.

The BJP election manifesto had promised a "legal framework to protect and promote the cow and its progeny". Mr Modi, however, has not yet made moves to institute a federal ban in India - the world's largest beef exporter, which exported US$4.3 billion (S$6 billion) worth of beef last year.

Still, in a sign of the growing clout of Hindu groups, the BJP-ruled state of Maharashtra enforced a beef ban on March 5 this year, while another BJP-ruled state, Haryana, introduced stricter laws that made the sale of beef an offence.

Against this backdrop, a planned eight-day ban on the sale of chicken, pork and mutton - to mark a festival of forgiveness celebrated by the strictly vegetarian Jain community in Mumbai - has also stoked controversy, even though such restrictions are common.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2015, with the headline 'Move to enforce beef ban in Indian state fuels unrest'. Print Edition | Subscribe