The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court has rapped the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh on the knuckles by practically asking it to get its act together over banning meat sales, which has had a serious impact on livelihoods and deprived people of their choice of food. On Wednesday, the court gave the government 10 days to draw up a plan so that its crackdown on unauthorised slaughterhouses doesn’t deprive people of their livelihood or prevent them from eating the food of their choice, provided it is healthy. Justices Amreshwar Pratap Sahi and Sanjay Harkauli noted: “An immediate check on unlawful activity should be simultaneous with facilitating lawful activities, particularly that relating to food, food habits and vending that is connected with the right to life and livelihood.”
The court also noted that food conducive to health can’t be treated as a “wrong” choice. Responding to a meat seller’s petition, the judges said diverse food habits had flourished in UP, and these were an essential part of the state’s “secular” culture, thus uttering the “S” word that so troubles those leaning towards the colour saffron. In the Assembly elections, the BJP campaigned on the issue of closing down meat shops. For a party that didn’t put up a single Muslim candidate, this was a dog-whistle to its followers which conveyed that the party prided itself on its brand of protecting the interests of the majority community. The meat trade is in the hands of Muslims. On coming to power the saffron party kept its promise. It banned “illegal” slaughterhouses.
As there are only 38 licensed abattoirs in a state of 220 million people, the bulk of the meat business is carried out through some 50,000 butcher shops that dot every corner of the state. The government order thus shut down the whole meat business. Meat shop owners went on strike to protest against the move. Many “legal” meat shops too complained that the government was dragging its feet over renewing licences and was cancelling existing ones on flimsy grounds — saying, in effect, that the administration itself was acting in vigilante fashion. If the butchers and meat sellers are primarily Muslim, the buyers are thought to be mainly Hindu, seen in terms of religious categories preferred by practitioners of communal politics. UP’s meat business — goat and buffalo — is thought to be worth around `15,000 crore per annum and employs some 15 lakh people. India is the world’s largest exporter of buffalo meat and Uttar Pradesh is the hub of this business. Economics too suggests that ending the trade hurts the state as a whole.