(The writer, an opinion columnist, is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist)
A year after Mr Modi’s victory, cattle meat production actually went up.
(Note: The forbidden fruit often happens to be the most attractive and sought after fruit. From Paradise lost? Yes, ban something, if you want to open everybody’s eyes and prompt them to ask:”But why?” When is the ruling class going to learn this lesson from the advertisers? In this sense the creator in Paradise was the best advertiser. Has banning cow slaughtaer and eating beef the most sought after entertainment and delicacy at table for Indians? The statistics below given by opinion columnist, Yogi Aggarwal seem to suggest that. It is very educative to read it. Besides the ban seems to be affecting our economy very badly. India is the second largest exporter of beef in the world. What is affected it Modi’s “Make in India” project. Using sacred cow to capture votes is not succeeding. Let not the Hindutva support for Modi be at the cost of his “Make in India” dream good for the whole country. james kottoor, editor)
In these troubled times when the Rightwing is on the offensive, among the many issues that animate their campaigns, none seems more delicate than the move to ban cow slaughter and to make the possession of such meat a criminal offence. On the surface while it may seem like a return to atavistic principles, in reality it is crippling an important part of the economy, depriving millions of farmers of additional income, lakhs of people of jobs, reducing export earnings and depriving millions of poor Indians of an affordable animal protein.
There are around 200 million cattle (cows, bulls, bullocks and calves) and 115 million buffaloes in the country. Most of them lead a productive existence, either yielding milk or providing traction power for farm use, and their dung is used as fertiliser and fuel. With an average life of 30 years, some 10 million cattle and buffaloes die every year. They are normally taken to the slaughterhouse when they are old and have outlived their usefulness. The average yield from one bullock or cow is around 300 kg of meat besides the hide that is used in the leather industry. Farmers normally use the sale proceeds from their old cattle to buy a young animal.
Thus the village economy is regenerated in this way. If it were not for this sale of old cattle to buy young ones, there would be considerable drain on rural resources. They are able to continue in this way largely because of cattle meat exports. At 2.4 million tonnes, India is the second largest exporter of beef in the world. The 3,600 legal and 30,000 illegal slaughterhouses in the country give employment to nearly half a million families, most of them dalits though the trade is controlled by members of Muslim communities.
The ban on cow slaughter in Maharashtra, for instance, threatens the livelihood of part of the 2.4 million people employed in the leather cleaning, processing, manufacture and trade. The “pink revolution”, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi disparagingly referred to the meat business, is a high employment generating industry. The economic think tank Crisil has analysed that the employee intensity in the leather industry is the highest among micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME), the backbone of employment in the country. Among the 2,450 MSMEs studied by Crisil, leather units had 146 employees each, compared with 143 for pharmaceuticals, 98 for textiles and 80 for auto ancillaries.
Though leather goods comprise an important part of the Prime Minister’s “Make in India” initiative to take output in manufacturing from 15 per cent of gross domestic product to 25 per cent within a decade, the government’s policies on meat and leather undermine this. The government plans that the leather industry will double the output and growth from Rs 82,000 crore at present in the next five years, employment would also rise to around five million from 2.4 million and exports would rise from $6.5 billion to $15 billion. This would require forward-looking policies on animal and cattle slaughter. Instead major Bharatiya Janata Party ruled states banned the slaughter of cattle leading to contradictory trends.
A year after Mr Modi’s victory, cattle meat production actually went up. After Maharashtra banned the slaughter of cattle in 2015, the legal slaughterhouses closed down while many illegal ones continued. The transport of hides to Tamil Nadu, the biggest leather producer in India, went down but did not stop. In the clash between ambivalent government intentions and determined commercial interests bent on continuing their trade, compromises are inevitable.
The main reason for banning cow slaughter is to manipulate caste Hindu sentiments by harping on the sacredness of “mother cow”. This has been built up into a myth, bypassing the vital role the cow, bullock, bull and buffalo play in the village (and national) economy. The life-giving milk that cows and buffaloes generate is the reason for the reverence many feel for cattle. For the Indian farmer this reverence is tempered with the practicalities of his/her living needs. No matter how affectionately the cow is treated, on outliving its usefulness it is better to exchange it for a younger animal, knowing that the trader who comes to take it away will lead it to the slaughterhouse.
A more insidious gambit is to hit at the livelihoods of dalits and minorities. Dalits do most of the unpleasant labour in the slaughterhouse business, while the trade is in the hands of relatively prosperous Muslims who can give jobs and dispense favours. By undermining dalits and Muslims and the class they represent, the government cuts at their employment prospects, a disturbing outlook as it can lead to desperation. This can lead to a search for violent solutions among the dalit and Muslim underclass.
The Modi government, despite its Hindutva bent, is tied down by its ambitious “Make in India” pretentions. It dithers between pushing its aggressive majoritarian agenda and the country’s economic growth needs. One caters to its hardcore supporters and the other to the wider range of potential voters who have a modern impulse. It cannot take its divisive schema of “ghar wapsi”, “love jihad”, an aggressive ban on beef, “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and its patently anti-dalit, anti-women and anti-intellectual stands without being thwarted by vast numbers of “emerging middle class” that voted for it. Unless, that is, they are swayed by the rhetoric into becoming just the kind of storm-troopers Mr Modi needs to implement his divisive agenda.