"We don’t have any other job or business and people will come on the streets," said Rauf Qureshi, secretary of the Beef Merchants’ Association in the Maharashtra city of Nashik. "Only those who are not aware of the reality can support such a decision."
Although cow slaughter has been banned for several decades in most Indian states, old or sick oxen (castrated bulls) have been slaughtered for meat in Maharashtra. But this has now come to an end, following the election in November 2014 of a state government, controlled by the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ally the Shiv Sena. It successfully lobbied the central government to approve a long-postponed ban that needed formal approval from the Indian president to come into force, which happened earlier this week.
Almost all the beef traders and consumers are from the minority Muslim community. According to Majeed Qureshi, secretary general of All India Jamiat-ul-Quresh, a Moslem social action organisation, the move will also directly affect several industries, including leather production, tanneries, bone mills and mutton tallow processors. "Tens of thousands of these animals are slaughtered every day in Maharashtra and millions of people will be affected," he said.
According to Rauf Qureshi, the ban would also affect the farmers as, until now, they managed to sell their old and infirm oxen to the beef traders and got money to purchase new animals. "A young ox costs about US$500 and the older ones were sold to beef traders for US$350," he said. "Now how would the farmers finance their new cattle?"
The new law may also worsen the fodder shortage created by the drought in Maharashtra, due to which the state government has banned the sale of fodder to other states. "Farmers won’t have resources to feed old cattle and therefore might resort to killing them," said Zafarul-Islam Khan, president of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, a Delhi-based religious organisation.
Beef was the cheapest meat available, but due to the increasing exports of buffalo meat its price has risen several times to US$4.50 per kilogram in the last two to three years, said Khan. "Now the common man will not be able to afford any meat," he said.