The All-India organisation of Quresh – a Muslim subgroup that dominates the meat industry – has called a special general body meeting in Delhi in October to decide whether to call for a countrywide strike in protest against rising anti-cow slaughter vigilantism.

The idea behind the All-India Jamiat-ul-Quresh’s proposed strike – that will stop the supply of all kind of meat in the country – is to convey to the Union government that the growing belligerence of cow-protectionists has inflicted heavy economic losses on the Quresh community.

Intimidation and violence by cow-vigilantes has created an ambience in which local authorities, especially the police, have taken to extorting money from those engaged in the meat trade. The Quresh group wants both these tormentors reined in.

The Jamiat-ul-Quresh believes that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance at the Centre will not respond to the angst of Muslims because of its ideology, but could be prompted into action as the disruption in the supply of chicken and mutton will invite the ire of those Hindus whose staple is meat.

Contrary to the myth of India being the land of vegetarians, different surveys have shown that between 60% and 70% of Indians above the age of 15 are meat-eaters.

To rally support, the Quresh group will reiterate that it backs the existing ban on cow slaughter. Some members even say they want a uniform ban on beef all over the country, without exceptions. Differences in state laws that regulate cattle-slaughter have fuelled the illegal bovine trade. Cow slaughter is not banned in six states and a few states permit the slaughter of cows over a certain age, or on issuance of a fit-to-slaughter certificate.

Business hit

A consequence of cow vigilantism is that it even has had an impact on those who deal exclusively in mutton and chicken, not buffalo meat. This is because the protectionists have stereotyped the Qureshis as a community engaged in illegal cow-slaughter, breeding hostility against them for disregarding the religious sentiments of Hindus.

Not only has this hostility encouraged officials – from monitors of pollution to animal welfare officials to the police – to exploit existing laws to extort money from those in the meat industry, but it has also made the administration apathetic to their problems.

For instance, traders ferrying goats to an abattoir are nabbed for overloading, an infraction of law that is not uncommon. Instead of fining them, the vehicles and the animals being ferried are seized. A prolonged legal process to have the livestock released ensues.

Then again, in Uttar Pradesh, several municipality-run abattoirs have been closed down because these were deemed polluting. But no alternative arrangements have been made in several cities, leaving butchers no option other than to resort to illegal slaughter – a violation, which triggers a chain of consequences.

Those who suffer most are traders engaged in the export of beef, a misnomer because it is buffalo meat that is shipped out.

Harassment by authorities

Here is an example of the harassment suffered by a Quresh trader, who neither wanted his name nor the district or state where his factory is located to be revealed.

In February last year, as soon as a container of buffalo meat worth Rs 80 lakh arrived at his factory, local police officials came calling. They claimed they had a tip-off that the container contained cow-meat. To investigate the matter, the district magistrate constituted a committee, which sent a sample of meat for testing to a government laboratory. Fifteen days later, the lab declared that the sample was buffalo meat.

The committee, however, decided to double-check. So yet another sample was sent to a government laboratory in an adjoining state. Another 15-20 days later, this lab too reported that it was buffalo meat. Then, since a committee member insisted that only a DNA test is foolproof, off went another sample to Hyderabad.

The DNA test report, too, showed the meat was not beef. By then it was April, and the mercury had soared, reducing the effectiveness of the container’s internal refrigeration system. The meat had a faint odour, was declared unfit for consumption and dumped. The exporter’s total loss: Rs 3 crore, which included the profits he lost and the cost of keeping the refrigerator working 24x7.

Such examples have convinced the Quresh community – arguably the only Muslim subgroup to have become prosperous over the decades – that cow-protectionists and their Hindutva patrons are engaged in a conspiracy to break its economic backbone.

Muslim-Dalit unity?

Given the stakes, Jamiat-ul-Quresh members feel they shouldn’t remain silent only because some of them fear that the Sangh Parivar will falsely portray their agitation as having a hidden agenda of slaughtering cows and consuming beef. This possibility is why some think it is best for the Quresh group to think of forging cross-community linkages and widening the agenda to garner support of other non-Muslim communities reeling under the onslaught of cow-protectionists. It is easy to envisage Dalits responding positively.

Said Satish Prakash, associate professor, Meerut College, who is also the district’s patron of the Scheduled Caste-Scheduled Tribe Welfare Association: “For two years, Muslims were being tormented by Gau Rakshaks but they couldn’t respond. In comparison, Una led to a Dalit pushback. Dalits have become trained to respond politically. Jamiat-ul-Quresh should interact with Dalits to settle on an agenda that appeals to them.”

Such an agenda will have to factor in the adverse impact of cow vigilantism on the tanning and leather industry, in which Dalits are employed in large numbers.

“We have the police asking us to prove whether the skin we get is that of a dead cow or one which was slaughtered,” said Amarnath, who is counted among Meerut’s bigger tannery owners. The attacks on vehicles ferrying skins have pushed transportation costs North. Harassment, he said, is common to both Muslims and Dalits.

Conditional support

In Punjab, dairy farmers have harnessed the science of cross-breeding to raise cows that are now said to be 80%-90% genetically similar to America’s Jersey breed. Because of its high yield of milk, there is a buoyant demand for these cows in other states. Until two years ago, the price for one such cow was Rs 1 lakh. But it is now down to Rs 60,000 because of the violence of cow-protectionists.

“Our days of woes will end soon,” said Daljit Singh Gill, president, Progressive Dairy Farmers Association. “There no chance for the Akali Dal-BJP government to return to power.” His optimism is one reason behind his reluctance to share the Jamiat-ul-Quresh platform, fearing that the dairy association could get branded as promoters of beef.

However, he added, “Should the Jamiat-ul-Quresh categorically state it is opposed to cow-slaughter, then it is in our interest to join the fight against these demented gau rakshaks.”

This too is the position of buffalo tallow supplier and Delhi trade union leader, Rajiv Aroraa, who claims to have suffered heavy losses because his tankers have been seized under pressure from cow-protectionists at least 10 times in the last year.

‘Wait for UP elections’

However, Uttar Pradesh farmer leader VM Singh, of the Kisan-Mazdoor Sangathan, said that the Quresh group should not undertake any campaign against cow vigilantism until the Assembly elections in the crucial state are over.

“These vigilantes and their activities are detrimental to farmers,” said Singh. “But to strike now is to play into the hands of those who wish to drive a wedge among communities for electoral gains.”

But even before the Jamiat-ul-Quresh thinks of formulating an agenda, it has also the task of rallying non-Quresh Muslim groups to its cause. Some of these groups were not traditionally linked to the meat business, but have now taken to selling mutton and chicken in qasbahs and villages of Uttar Pradesh. In the past, whenever the Jamiat-ul-Quresh struck work – for instance, in Delhi in 2013 – the non-Quresh Muslim groups stepped in to meet the demand for meat, and made a killing.

But 2016 isn’t quite like the past. The violence of cow-protectionists against Muslims has engendered fear and anger in the community, seemingly uniting them despite their disparate interests. This is why the Jamiat-ul-Quresh perhaps has a good chance to succeed this time, more so if it were to broaden its platform to include non-Muslim groups.