Every morning just before dawn, hundreds of trucks loaded with buffaloes trundle into New Delhi's sprawling slaughterhouse complex where young men rush to unload the bellowing cargo.
Skidding on heaps of fresh dung, they pull the animals out of the trucks, herding them for the daily auction and eventual slaughter. The work is hard and the money at the end of it, poor.
But the business is big. Despite Hindu beliefs that cows are sacred — and the fact that their slaughter is banned in most of the country — India is the world's fifth-largest consumer and second-largest exporter of beef.
Meat traders, many of whom have carried their trade for generations, are worried about their jobs.
"This is a political decision," said Mohammed Aqil Qureshi, president of the Buffalo Traders Welfare Association in Ghazipur, the New Delhi neighbourhood where the slaughterhouse complex is located.
"They want to gratify the Hindus and harass the Muslims."
A beef ban would hit the poor the most, said Qureshi.
"This is poor people's food and is a key source of nutrition for millions of people," he said.
Fears among meat traders grew last month when the country's second-most-populous state, Maharashtra, extended the slaughter ban to include bulls.
Many people who in the past would not have eaten the meat at home in deference to strictly vegetarian parents and older relatives now openly broil buffalo meat.
Economists say a complete ban on cow slaughter could prove counterproductive as farmers would abandon their animals once they stop giving milk.
Worse, farmers may consider it economically impossible to keep cows altogether if they must feed the animals for the rest of their lives, said Harish Damodaran, an economic analyst.
"The cow has a future only in the states that at least permit selective culling," Damodaran wrote in the Indian Express newspaper, bolstering his argument with figures that showed farmers switching to buffaloes in states that did not allow cow slaughter.
The ban could also spell disaster for India's beef exports, which have grown quickly over the past decade, increasing annually in recent years at 17-19%. This year, exporters were expecting a 25% increase. They hope they will not be hit hard, but they are anxious.
"It is like telling people they can't eat sugar. This ban will not work."