Meat is off the menu in restaurants around Uttar Pradesh’s Bisada village following the lynching of Mohammad Ikhlaq over rumours of butchering a cow and eating beef, indicating a climate of fear amid growing communal polarisation in the area.
Restaurant owners said they were taking no chances as they were afraid of being persecuted for serving any kind of meat, including chicken and fish, as sectarian tensions simmered in Bisada where local BJP leaders have been stirring up passions with incendiary speeches.
“We can’t take a risk for some money. We have stopped serving any meat. The atmosphere is tense and we can’t talk about it much,” said Sunil Sisodia, owner of Maharana hotel outside Bisada village. He added that the only non-vegetarian item on his menu was eggs.
Bisada has been on edge since a mob lynched 55-year-old Ikhlaq a week ago and left his younger son, Danish, critically injured. The atmosphere is so tense that two carcasses of calves found in the neighbourhood triggered panic in the area, prompting the deployment of police to prevent the situation from spinning out of control.
“In the first case, a carcass of a calf was found in a drain at Chithera village late on Sunday night. The villagers gathered and shouted slogans. They were planning to block the road but the police swung into action and controlled the situation. A platoon of provincial armed constabulary was deployed immediately. A case was lodged against unidentified persons for cow slaughter,” said Anurag Singh, deputy superintendent of police, Dadri.
In the second case, a group of men stopped a person seen carrying a dead calf on a scooter on Monday. Police registered an FIR against one person for allegedly mobilising a mob of about 100 people to accost the Hindu man who was taking a calf for burial after it died of natural causes. Police said the man has been charged with disturbing public peace.
“The person who was carrying the dead calf was detained,” said Singh. “He said he is the owner of the calf which died due to some ailment. The case is being investigated.”
Rattled by the atmosphere of fear, many roadside shops that used to sell chicken and fish have also closed down for fear of sparking any violence. “It’s hard to find meat in this area. Also, this is not the right time to eat non-veg food,” said Sunil Sisodia.
Small hotels in the nearby village of Piyali, a Jatav-dominated area, have also turned vegetarian to avoid any problems in a communally-charged environment with political leaders seeking to polarise the electorate ahead of this month’s panchayat polls in the state.
“It’s better to avoid non-veg for a while. We have not stopped it forever. We will serve meat when the time is right. Though the changed menu is inviting less customers, that’s a very small amount for our security,” said a restaurant owner, Mahesh Kumar. “We did it voluntarily.”
One restaurant owner, Iftikhar Ahmad, said he sold all the meat he had to a relative’s restaurant in Dadri. “After the incident in Bisada, we hid all the raw and cooked meat. The next night I stashed all the meat and sold it to one of my relatives who runs a restaurant in Dadri area,” said Iftikhar. “Some big pieces of meat were rotten but we could not dump them anywhere. I had to carry them to an isolated place to bury them.”
In another sign of simmering tensions, an Indian Air Force team that went to Bisada to meet Ikhlaq’s family -- after they returned from a meeting with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow -- was asked not to enter the village where authorities have also kept the media bay.
“The Air Force personnel wanted to meet Ikhlaq’s family but as the village is tense, it was suggested they wait at a nearby guesthouse,” said Rakesh Sisodia, a local resident.