Criticism mounted over a controversial Maharashtra ban on of cows, bulls or bullocks on Wednesday as traders said the move would push up prices of other meat products and adversely affect hundreds of restaurants catering to the poor.
Beef went off the menu in the BJP-ruled state as the President approved on Tuesday an amendment to a 1995 state law which brought the possession, sale or purchase of bulls, bullocks and calves under a slaughter ban that only covered cows before.The ban was notified by the state government on Wednesday, triggering widespread protests in Maharashtra with activists saying the restriction was driven by Hindu hardliners and would hurt the poor and minorities. Many Hindus consider the cow sacred and consider eating beef sacrilege.
“We understand cow slaughter is banned because it is sacred to a community. But why bulls, bullocks and calves? This is sheer majoritarianism,” said Ashfaq Ibrahim Ansari, a garment dealer from Mazgaon.
Fears that people eating beef could also be prosecuted grew as the amended act made slaughtering the animals a non-bailable offence, with a punishment of up to five years in prison, upped from the earlier six months. The fine, too, has been hiked to Rs 10,000 from Rs 1,000.
The slaughter of female buffaloes and buffalo calves, however, can continue in the state but with the permission of relevant authorities.
The move may deal a blow to hundreds of small restaurants, many of which are run by Muslim families and cater to poor people. “We will have to close down our shop,” said Zahir Quereshi, a third-generation trader.
The ban may also send mutton and chicken prices up by over 25%, said Aslam Quereshi, president of the All India Sheep and Goat Breeders and Dealers Association. “There are poor people who depend on beef products and they will be forced to shift to other meat products and vegetables due to the ban,” he added.
Mumbai’s upmarket neighbourhoods, too, were up in arms against the ban, amid concerns that many famous steak houses and eateries may no longer be able to offer beef delicacies any longer.
“Minority communities including Parsis and Muslims, who buy red meat from local butchers, will find it difficult to make do without it,” says Pankil Shah, co-owner of Woodside Inn.
Experts in the hospitality industry, however, said outrage over the ban was rooted in ignorance as a ban on cow slaughter has been in place since 1976 and what is sold as beef is actually buffalo meat.