“The Narendra Modi government’s beef politics will not work in Kerala,” Rafiq, 52, said, slicing a piece of meat off the carcass hanging from a hook at his beef stall in Kuttichira in Kozhikode on Friday. “I am sure the Kerala government will bring in a legislation to help us continue in this profession.”

Still, Rafiq added, the Union government’s notification announced on Friday banning the sale at animal markets of several types of cattle for slaughter could hurt business. “We depend heavily on cattle from Tamil Nadu,” he said. “Many small and medium-scale slaughterhouses will have to down shutters if there is a shortage in cattle supply.”

The new notification under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, drafted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, bans the sale at cattle markets of bulls, cows, bullocks, buffaloes, steers, heifers, calves and camels for slaughter. It also stipulates that cattle can be sold only to farmers.

It has caused outrage in Kerala, one of the few major states that has never banned bovine slaughter.

Rafiq at his beef stall in Kozhikode. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

According to data from the Union ministry for animal husbandry, 11.7 lakh adult cattle and 69,170 young cattle were slaughtered in Kerala in 2015-’16. It is the state that slaughters more cattle than any other in India. Most of these cattle came from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The data shows that Malappuram district accounts for 14.5% of all the cattle slaughtered in the state. It is followed by Thrissur, Ernakulam and Kozhikode.

An official at the animal husbandry department, who asked to remain unidentified, said the Centre’s notification will hit thousands of dairy farmers, who buy new cattle by selling old, non-lactating cows for slaughter. “The demand in the market ensures them a reasonable price,” he said.

The Chelari cattle market is held every Tuesday in Malappuram district. Photo credit: Banniesh

Livelihood at stake

The politics over cows and beef in the country worries Rafiq. “I have a feeling that the recurring controversies over beef will rob us of our traditional business,” he said. “It is part of a larger conspiracy.”

He has run a slaughterhouse since he was 14. He sells 200 kg of beef every day. “I buy cattle from markets in Chelari, Manjeri,” he said, referring to places in the neighbouring Malappuram district, “and Koduvally in Kozhikode.”

The weekly Chelari market is one the largest in Kerala and sees thousands of cattle traded every Tuesday. “It is unorganised business, but transactions worth lakhs of rupees happen here every week,” said Ashokan, a cattle trader. “Cattle trade is a huge business if you put together the hundreds of markets all over the state. We don’t want it to perish.”

Kunhayin Koya, the Kozhikode district secretary of the Meat Dealers Association, estimated that the ban, if implemented, will hurt the livelihoods over 10,000 families in Kerala. “There are more than 200 abattoirs in Kozhikode district alone,” he said. “Most of the owners have been engaged in this business for generations. Will it be possible for them to make a living if the ban comes into effect?”

His association will press the state government to legislate against the ban, Koya said. “I hope the Left Democratic Front government will rescue meat dealers and employees,” he added.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan called for a nation-wide agitation against the notification. “Lakhs of people will lose their jobs due to the ban,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “There should be a nation-wide protest against the decision.”

He alleged: “The Centre is trying to scuttle the secular character of the country. People from all religions consume bovine meat and it is not limited to a particular religion.”

The Chief Minister’s Office made similar allegations in a series of tweets later.

The state’s ministers and the leader of the opposition too expressed their anger at this move.

Animal Husbandry Minister K Raju said the Union government has acted in a manner that is against the country’s federal structure. “It will have far-reaching consequences,” he said.

Agriculture Minister VS Sunil Kumar denounced the notification as “infringement on food security”. He was also quoted by the Hindustan Times as saying, “We will not allow the (central) government to enforce fascist policies of the RSS and other fringe outfits. Let it issue many such notifications, we will not follow them.”

The opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said the ban is a violation of human rights. “This is how a fascist regime functions,” he said.

Mohmamed Ali, owner of Adhinan Beef Stall in Kozhikode, is worried the ban will hit his business during Ramzan. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

The Kerala government may well find a way out of the notification for the state’s meat industry. For now, though, Mohmamed Ali, who owns Adhinan Beef Stall in Kozhikode, is crestfallen.

“Sales usually go up during the month of Ramzan, which will begin on Saturday,” he said. “I am afraid that the arrival of cattle from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh will stop anytime now. That will not augur well for the traders.”