India’s Supreme Court will hear a petition next week challenging the Indian Government’s controversial notification that bans sale and purchase of cattle from animal markets for slaughter.
The Supreme Court is the highest judicial forum and final court of appeal under the Constitution of India. Laws declared by the Supreme Court are binding on all courts within India.
The notification by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is also being challenged in several State courts, as State Governments declare they will not implement the order, arguing that the central Government cannot dictate food habits.
The Wall Street Journal this week reported that the directive will effectively cut off the supply of meat for processors, and the threat it poses to international beef supply has pushed global beef prices higher.
It is still not clear how many livestock will be affected and how it will affect slaughter numbers in export plants.
The Hindustan Times reported this week that most states in India have weekly markets where animals are traded and these markets are a primary source of supply for meat traders.
Court petitions filed against the ruling state that 90 percent of the cattle slaughtered for food in India are sourced from animal markets.
India’s biggest beef exporting company, Allana, sent a letter to its clients stating that the ban on cattle sales for slaughter in livestock markets would “disrupt the availability of buffalo for the approved abattoirs” and “severely affect the supply chain”.
It said the notification meant that buffaloes which until now have been procured for slaughter from livestock markets will now not be permitted. Buffaloes could be sourced from the farmers directly, but the letter noted that supply chain would become impractical, as there are no large livestock farms in India.
Supreme Court challenge
The Madras high court has stayed the Government’s order for four weeks and other states are also challenging the ban, which they say is against the spirit of federalism.
The controversy reached India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, with Hyderabad-based lawyer Mohammed Abdul Faheem Qureshi, acting for butchers and cattle traders, challenging its validity.
Mr Qureshi’s petition contends that the Government’s May 25 notification was “discriminatory” and “unconstitutional” as it prevents cattle traders from earning their livelihood.
He said slaughtering of animals for food and sacrifice was part of the cultural identity of certain communities and it was protected by law, and argues that the ban on trade in animals younger than six months and reselling of cattle within six months impinges trade, which is illegal.
The Supreme Court will hear the case on June 15.
Three BJP leaders resign
As controversy rages the ruling BJP Party is facing a backlash from some within its party.
Two senior BJP leaders have resigned from the Party in the past week, saying the Government is mixing politics and religion and the imposition of its non-secular ideology on the community is not acceptable.
BJPs Youth President along with 5000 supporters also announced their resignation from the party over the beef ban yesterday.
Another BJP spokesperson, Vaman Acharya, publicly stated this week that before India became an agrarian country, all Indians including Brahmins (the highest caste in Hinduism) ate beef. However he retracted his remarks after facing flak from his own partymen.
In India’s southern state of Kerala, India’s second highest beef consuming state, eating beef has become an act of protest. In the past week people have gathered with pots and pans and firewood to cook beef and share it with strangers in the streets, a convivial form of protest. “Many Hindus, who usually avoid cooking or eating beef, have joined the feasts. But for many in Kerala, the rules are more than an economic blunder. To them, they epitomize the arrogance of Hindu politicians in faraway New Delhi”, the Washington Post reported.
Amid the growing controversy, a government spokesperson has stated that the ruling BJP party is open to review the suggestions submitted by various stakeholders against ban on sale or purchase of cattle for slaughter animal market.
Reiterating that the ban has “nothing to do with influencing food habits or meat business”, Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan said that the intention was to ensure welfare of animals and to control their smuggling.
Strong Hindu support for policy
However, there are also signs the raging controversy is not discouraging the overall BJP leadership.
The controversy about cow slaughter helps the BJP play to its gallery, the Hindustan Times reported.
“With over 80pc of Indians identifying themselves as Hindu, and most of the faithful not approving of the consumption of beef, the BJP expects that the controversy will help it politically and ideologically”.
The police director in one of India’s largest states, Uttar Pradesh, issued a new directive on Tuesday that the region’s bovine slaughterers and so-called smugglers are to be convicted under the National Security Act and Gangsters Act.
There are suggestions the Indian Government may compromise by lifting the ban on buffalo specifically, which are not considered sacred to Hindus and which would allow the country’s economically important buffalo beef processing and exporting industry to continue.
In the meantime, poultry sellers are reportedly making most of situation, with chicken finding new levels of demand as butchers steer clear of selling and buying cattle out of fear of prosecution.