It’s been almost a month now since the President gave the nod to Maharashtra Animal Preservation Amendment Bill 1995, with the announcement in the government gazette cementing the ban on beef. It’s not just the food and beverage industry state-wide that’s been shaken up but every citizen who, regardless of their diet, believes in being the ones to decide what makes it to their plate. While the slaughter of cows has been banned since 1976, the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and calves has also been taken off the table now, leaving only water buffalo or carabeef (constituting 25% of the market) as the legal source of beef in the state. Anyone found or selling or even in possession of beef will now be fined Rs 10,000 and jailed for five years. Recently, the ban also spread to the state of Haryana, with a new act proposing penalty for cow slaughter that is equivalent to those charged with murder.
In Maharashtra, beef dealers’ businesses have taken an unprecedented hit and their petition to the Bombay High Court was met with refusal to grant them any relief, the court also urging them to not make this ‘a religious or a prestige issue’.
Scroll.in’s conversation with Dalit political scientist Kancha Ilaiah highlights how claims of only Muslims and Christians consuming the meat are historically and empirically incorrect, as beef has long been the biggest source of protein for indigenous communities such as the Dalits and tribals during long summers of gruelling food scarcity. Our Prime Minister’s views on beef have been point-blank since the beginning, having previously criticized the ‘pink revolution to butcher cattle and export meat‘ that the then UPA-dominated government promoted, exhibiting which was (even then) interpreted as a ‘heavy-handed emphasis on Hindutva’. In spite of the friction that the mention of beef tends to cause in our country, India is the world’s second-largest exporter of beef.
Amidst much shock and resentment from several sections of society at what is inarguably a swipe at cultural diversity, the discussion turns to how it isn’t just the the average meat eater who enjoys his beef who is affected, but an entire industry that has been thrown off-balance. Food culture in the state is undergoing a considerable change and we reached out to various people who are directly affected by the ban albeit in differing degrees, for their views. From chefs to restaurateurs with special beef dishes to suppliers, their views might vary from each other marginally but ultimately fall on the same spectrum, cohesively condemning the ban.
Intezar Qureshi (Supplier) Vice President of The Bombay Suburban Beef Dealers Welfare Association
“It’s the farmers who are going to suffer the brunt of this ban the worst. They can barely feed themselves and their families, and now they’re expected to feed aged bulls and bullocks as well?”
Considering his family has been supplying beef for over 20 generations, it’s unsurprising that Qureshi has emerged as a key voice of representation for the thousands of less privileged who are directly affected by the ban. Rather than focus on his own suffering alone (“We are scared, this is the only work we have known for so long”) however, he believes it will be “most difficult for farmers to now feed their ageing cattle upto 40kgs in grain and several litres of water.”
According to him, meat prices will also become an issue very soon. A sizeable number of chickens have been afflicted with bird flu, which cuts down meat options further, with the prices of other meats on the rise. “This is a government we have elected to power, and it’s important that they protect their citizens and their livelihoods, at least through some sort of compensation, which hasn’t been offered to us,” he tells us. Further backing up the claims that buyers of beef extend well past the ‘Muslim’ circle to Christians, Dalits and tribal people as well, his fears represent the very tangible concerns of the thousands he speaks about. “Right now, everyone is scared. In protest, we have even stopped the slaughtering of buffaloes in the past few weeks until we can come up with a plan to counter this.”
“The ban has affected everyone, from the farmers to the beef traders to restaurants in the state,” Intezar Qureshi, told Homegrown. “We respect religious sentiments, and that’s why we’ve followed the ban on slaughtering of cows since 1976. But it’s the slaughter of bulls and bullocks that’s been banned now, putting our livelihoods at stake. There’s also the tanners using cow hides for leather products, and other industries that produce goods using cattle by-products.”
Bruce Rodrigues, Owner of Imbiss Restaurant
“Business has been affected a lot. We used to do around 50 burgers and 20 steaks daily, numbers that we’re unable to meet. We’re currently waiting for butchers to start the slaughtering of water buffalo again so we can restart our beef burger with fresh meat again. We have been using frozen stuff, which just isn’t the same.”
“The ban is extremely unfair,” the owner of the Bandra/Colaba carnivore’s favourite Imbiss tells us.“We had a lot of customers coming in the first few days after the ban to have their favourite steaks for the last time, but the stock ran out very quickly. Buffalo is very different in terms of quality - something that’s the cause of much debate - it’s much tougher and since we can’t deliver the quality we used to, we’re trying to work out how to match the taste by marinating it and trying different things. Buffalo meat is very expensive too, at 425 a kg as opposed to 220 a kg before, and Maharashtra and Gujarat also export a lot of beef to the Middle East.”
Bruce is personally of the opinion that the ban isn’t going to be revoked and is thinking of introducing new dishes such as pork roast or pork burgers to the menu. “But there are a lot of sections of people who love steak.. it’s all trial and error at this point. Maybe we’ll reinvent a few dishes in a new way.”
He concludes that until the general public takes to the streets and protests, nothing is going to change, and the industry is going to continue to incur heavy losses.
Paresh Chhabria, co-founder of Between Breads
“In terms of business, it has affected me to an extent that cheeseburgers are now off the menu. Until we introduce something new to the menu, the business is going to take a direct hit. It’s going to take us at least a month or two to introduce new dishes. It is sad that we have no control over what we eat.”
“A bunch of restaurants in the city are still serving buffalo meat,” the Between Breads head added, shedding more light on the complex licensing system that’s in the works as well. You need a certificate for that, it’s a grey area and until we get some more clarity, we aren’t going to be doing so. Export quality carabeef is of inferior quality, and we’re not too sure of that meat; it’s supposed to be tougher. We’re in talks with a consultant to figure out how to treat it and serve it but meanwhile, we’re focusing on pork and lamb burgers.”
“In a month or two, we should get more clarity on the situation. More than us, it’s definitely the suppliers who’ve been hit really hard. The F&B industry has definitely been affected, but we do we have other meat products on our menu,” he reasons.
Prathamesh Mickey Shenoy, Corporate Chef at Leaping Window
“Indian chefs have to be more innovative than ever in light of this ban, in addition to dealing with other setbacks such as the quality of produce. As a chef - or anyone creative - this is a great hindrance to creativity.”
While Chef Shenoy’s views on the ban are more emotional than financial (something he believes most consumers are suffering from as well) he, like many others, feels nothing but empathy for the real victims of the ban--the farmers. “Historically speaking, farmers have suffered the most in a country that claims to have a secular democratic government. The truth is, we’re highly religious and freedom of speech is only accepted within certain limits. I should have the right to question or insult whatever I want, but I don’t. Propaganda is the heaviest tool, and when you can convince someone of your ideas and make them do what you want as though it were your own idea - that’s more powerful than any sort of money.”
Expressing concerns about the dangerous duality that seems to be creeping up in the country, he tries to fathom how the same place that’s taking “globalised steps like having restaurants and bars stay open all night, such a ban like this can simultaneously exist? We don’t consume as much beef in Maharashtra as other states, but as a chef, they’re taking an entire element off the menu for me. The restaurant, and the clientele, is losing out on eight dishes because of this and resurgence seems unlikely any time soon.
Business, however, is not a serious concern for him regardless of the ban. “As for how business has been affected, it’s more emotional than financial. It’s really hot now and people generally avoid eating red meat, anyway,” he rations.
Chef Kelvin Cheung, Ellipsis
“As a chef, there are already a lot of restrictions in terms of imports and the quality of local products, and our beef dishes are some of our largest sellers. As someone who likes to create new things and experiment with food, this has hampered my work and several regulars have expressed their disappointment as well. I think everyone was in shock at first, and now there’s just a lot of resentment. What’s going to be at stake next, our liberties?”
“I’m fine with religious views,” Chef Kelvin Cheung of fine-dine restaurant Ellipsis says. “My issue is the reasoning behind the ban, and its ripple effects. What about the 20, 000 people whose livelihoods are on the line? The fact that the government isn’t thinking about them and recognising their needs is pretty clear. If the government is now allowed to mandate what’s on your plate, that’s opening the door to a lot of scary possibilities.”
Gresham Fernandes, Chef at Impresario
“The thing is, it’s the slaughter of bulls that’s been banned now, and they have approached this from a very religious point of view. Our sales have not been affected at all, but it’s definitely going to be a switch in taste for a lot of beef-eaters in the city.”
“We’ve always used buffalo meat, and I don’t think it’s about anything besides the way it is cooked. Our customers have certainly never had a problem with it. Our suppliers are Allana, who also export a lot of beef to regions like the Middle East. A lot of people don’t like buffalo meat, because it’s black in colour. People don’t understand that these are buffaloes that are chosen on a fit-for-slaughter basis, they’re old and have been working in fields all their life. It’s how you cook the meat that matters.”
So Where Are We Now?
At this point, it’s important to realise that pushback against the ban is making its voice heard today. The ‘cultural minority’ amongst Hindus who eat beef has now spoken out, with two Mumbaikars - advocate Vishal Seth from Fort and student Shaina Sen from Bandra - challenging the government ban and seeking protection of their ‘right to quality of life ingrained in their choice of source of protein’. The duo’s PIL cited this as a violation of fundamental rights and said, “We are Hindus who are consumers of beef, which is one of the nutrition sources and part of our diet...Hindu consumers of beef constitute a cultural minority and are entitled to preserve their dietary and cultural identity.” The PIL filed by the Mumbaikars is to be taken up by a division bench headed by Justice V M Kanade, along with that of a Jogeshwari resident who pointed out that the possession of leather products made from bovine hide are not criminal whereas possession of beef is.
Tuesday also witnessed more than 5, 000 people joining in in a day-long protest, organised by the Sarva Shramik Sangh under the umbrella of the New Trade Union Initiative, with ‘butchers, beef traders, farmers, meat eaters, sanitation workers and students’ coming together in ‘a diverse show of strength’. The protest at Deonar, one of Asia’s largest abattoir, culminated with nearly four hours of speeches at Azad Maidan; a detailed letter was also presented to the CM via Madhav Bhandari, the only BJP member present at the protest.
It’s appalling to think about how our liberties have been slipping away one by one, collateral damage to a political agenda that is bordering on autocracy. At the root of it is our principle right to live as we want, individual opinions and beliefs intact. Recently, there has also been a report of The Viniyog Parivar Trust, a Jain trust responsible for framing instrumental clauses in the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976 - such as making slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks a non-bailable offence. This is all in the interest of ‘saving the precious cattle bank of the country’ as they work towards their goal of a sustainable, non-mechanised agricultural system.
Considering the effect the ban has had on so many sections of society and their livelihoods, that a law causing more damage than good has been passed at all - by the people that we’ve voted to power - is mind-boggling. Censorship has been infiltrating our system for a while now but when someone starts taking away personal agency from you, the need for change becomes more urgent than ever.
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari