Beef business attacked by Hindu nationalists
MUMBAI, FEBRUARY 25
Hindu nationalists in India have stepped up attacks on the country’s beef industry, seizing trucks with cattle bound for abattoirs and blockading meat processing plants in a bid to halt the trade in the world’s second-biggest exporter. The industry is predominantly run by Muslim traders and some groups in the majority Hindu population vehemently oppose it due to the revered status of cows. Beef traders fear that elements in the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be condoning the latest flare-up in protests.
There has been a surge of raids this month. An official at a beef transport group in Maharashtra state said around 10 vehicles traveling to Mumbai had been stopped, the animals taken forcefully and drivers beaten by members of Hindu nationalist groups despite carrying valid documents.
“We are doing everything legally, but these people harass us and disrupt our work for no reason,” said Mohammad Shahid Sheikh, president of the beef transporters’ group in Deonar, the site of India’s biggest abattoir on the outskirts of Mumbai.
Despite the sensitivities over the trade, India has become the world’s top beef exporter behind Brazil. Traders said the current attacks had not caused major disruption, but if they were to become nationwide could threaten the lucrative business.
A majority of India’s beef comes from buffaloes, which are not worshipped, but members of Hindu nationalist groups involved in protests such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) consider themselves protectors of both cows and buffaloes.
Some of these groups have close links with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Modi, who himself criticized the previous government for promoting a “pink revolution to butcher cattle and export meat”.
The attacks on beef traders are another example of Modi’s struggles to contain extremist elements of the BJP’s support base, whose strident behavior is dragging on the government’s economic reform agenda.
Modi last week vowed to protect all religious groups after attacks on Christian institutions in New Delhi, which were partly blamed for the BJP’s drubbing in a state election.
The BJP’s national general secretary, Ram Madhav, declined to comment on the party’s stance on the beef trade and the protests, while Modi’s press officer did not respond to calls and a text message seeking comment.
Satpal Malik, a vice president of the farmers wing of the BJP, said: “We did say we would discourage beef exports and even the prime minister was against it, but I can’t comment on what we think of the issue now.”