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Hundreds join Meghalaya beef fest by ex-BJP leaders to protest govt notification

Participants had steamed rice with traditional beef delicacies to the accompaniment of music and dancing on Saturday. The food was served with bitchi, a local drink.

india Updated: Jul 05, 2017 13:15 IST
Utpal Parashar
Utpal Parashar
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
Beef festival,Meghalaya,Garo Hills
Participants of the festival at Tura in West Garo Hills sample a beef delicacy on Saturday.(HT Photo)

Hundreds turned up at a beef festival organised by two former BJP leaders in Meghalaya on Saturday evening to protest against a central government notification that banned cattle trade for slaughter at animal markets.

The festival held at Tura, district headquarters of the West Garo Hills, will be followed by others in neighbouring districts in the coming weeks. “Nearly 500 people turned up by 8 pm. We expect many more to join us soon,” said Bernard N Marak, who was the BJP’s West Garo Hills district president until he resigned last week.

Soon after, North Garo Hills district president Bachu C Marak also quit the party. This spurred the resignation of nearly 5,000 youth wing workers from the region.

The government has banned the sale of cows and buffaloes for slaughter through animal markets, touching a raw nerve in states in the northeast and Kerala where beef is a delicacy. The new rules do not amount to a blanket ban on cattle trade or their slaughter, and license breeding remains legal.

Protesters huddle around a jar of bitchi during the beef festival. (HT photo)

In Meghalaya, participants had steamed rice with traditional beef delicacies to the accompaniment of music and dance on Saturday. The food was served with bitchi, a local drink.

Irked by the notification and the party leadership’s refusal to allow a beef party to mark three years of the Narendra Modi government, many more BJP workers in the Garo Hills region are expected to quit in the coming days.

“Our bitchi-beef fest is intended to warn our leaders against disrespecting our local laws and traditions. Having beef is our right, and it should be respected by others,” said Bernard.

Beef consumption is common in Christian-dominated Meghalaya unlike other parts of the country, and the Centre’s notification hasn’t gone down well with its residents. “I quit the BJP because the party was trying to impose its Hindutva ideology on us. We feel out of place in the party. Eating beef is part of our tradition, and this festival is our way of showing that,” the former party leader said.

These developments are seen by some as bad news for the BJP ahead of next year’s assembly polls. The Garo Hills region has 24 of the state’s total assembly seats, which are crucial for the party to displace the ruling Congress government.

However, party leaders in the state as well as the Centre appear unperturbed. They have dubbed the deserters as opportunists who quit because their chances of landing party tickets for the assembly polls were slim. “We welcome the resignations. There’s nothing to worry about because this talk of a blanket ban on cow slaughter is fabricated,” said state party president Shibun Lyngdoh.

A member of the organising team poses with jars of bitchi before the start of the beef festival. (HT Photo)

The Centre’s notification has led to discontent in Nagaland and Mizoram too. Assembly polls are due in both the states next year, and like Meghalaya, they also have dominant Christian populations who thrive on beef consumption.

According to data released by the National Sample Survey Organisation in 2015, seven of the eight states in the region – except Tripura – figure among India’s top 10 in consumption of beef and buffalo meat. Meghalaya topped the list, with nearly 81% of its population consuming the meat. The figure was 57% for Nagaland and 23% for Mizoram.

First Published: Jun 10, 2017 21:35 IST