Friday’s notification by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests banning the sale of cattle for slaughter at animal markets has triggered a flurry of protests in Kerala, Bengal and most North Eastern states that have traditionally eaten beef. Though the new rules do not explicitly ban beef, they have created a thicket of red tape that will, in effect, make cattle slaughter very difficult.

Scroll.in reporters spoke to people across the country who are opposing the rules.

Arunachal Pradesh: ‘Even China doesn’t do that’

In the eastern-most state of the country, Arunachal Pradesh, the primary opposition to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress, vowed to step up protests, describing the move as “dictatorial”.

“People of the state will protest with us as 99% of the people are beef-eaters here,” said Padi Richo, president of the state Congress unit. Richo said it was unbecoming of a modern democracy to dictate food choices for its people. “Even China doesn’t do that,” he said.

Bengal: ‘Destructive attitude to federal structure’

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Monday that the new rules were “undemocratic and unconstitutional” and reflected “a destructive attitude to federal structure, unnecessary bulldozing, encroaching and interference to federal structure”.

She added: “We will challenge it legally and constitutionally for interference in state power.”

The rules were also criticised by Congress’s West Bengal, which alleged that they would will hurt the livelihoods of millions of people associated with the meat industry and allied sectors.

Kerala: Beef festivals and cow slaughter

In Kerala, almost all political parties, except the BJP, organised beef festivals. Protesters brought cooking utensils and firewood, built make-shift open hearths and cooked huge quantities of beef. These were eaten by bystanders, accompanied by bread, parotta and ghee rice.

The Democratic Youth Federation of India and Students’ Federation of India, the youth and student wings of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and their Congress counterparts, Youth Congress and Kerala Students Union, took the lead in organising the festivals across the state.

The Students’ Federation of India alone organised beef festivals in 210 locations.

A beef fest in Kerala
A beef fest in Kerala

Ministers of the Left Democratic Front government, MLAs and MPs too joined the protest by relishing the beef delicacies.

The state is likely to witness more beef festivals when schools and colleges re-open next week after the summer break.

Beef festivals are not new to Kerala. Hundreds of such events had been organised in the state in 2015 to protest the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh.

In another act of protest, youth Congress workers in Kannur slaughtered a bullock on May 27 and distributed the meat. The incident hit national headlines, but the protesters ran into legal trouble after the police registered a case against the workers under Section 120-A of the Kerala Police Act based on a complaint by a BJP leader.

The section deals with causing nuisance and violation of public order.

The BJP’s state president, Kummanam Rajashekharan, tweeted out a video of the slaughter. “Cruelty at its peak,” he wrote.

The Congress national leadership intervened immediately, fearing public backlash. Rahul Gandhi condemned the incident on May 28. The party suspended three youth Congress workers who organised the protest on May 29.

Manipur: ‘Only an anti-minority government can do something like this’

In Manipur, the Congress lashed out the Union government, calling it anti-minority. “Only an anti-minority government can do something like this in the holy month of Ramzan,” said Congress legislator Md Fajur Rahim. Rahim said that the notification insulted “secularism of the country”.

The ruling BJP is treading cautiously. Nimaichand Luwang, its spokesperson, said there will “certainly be a lot of reaction among Manipuri people”. Around 40%-45% of Manipuri people eat beef, so there will definitely be protests, he said.

Meghalaya: ‘Dictatorial’

In poll-bound Meghalaya, the spokesperson of the ruling Congress was quoted by the Meghalaya Times as having called the notification “dictatorial”.

The BJP, which has emerged as a strong contender to the Congress in recent times, seemed to have taken a circumspect line. While a party leader named Bernard Marak reportedly said the BJP would reduce the price of beef if the party came to power, the party’s state president Shibun Lyngdoh told Scroll.in that it was only Marak’s “personal opinion”.

In March, however, the party had affirmed that there would be no ban on beef in the North Eastern states. When asked about the same in light of the new notification, Lyngdoh remained non-committal. “We will discuss it with our Delhi leaders and then comment,” he said.

Mizoram: ‘Veiled Hinduvta agenda’

In another poll-bound state, Mizoram, the ruling Congress said the new rule “restricted people from eating what they want to in a beef-eating society like Mizoram”. “There is a veiled Hinduvta agenda to this move, so as a Christian-majority state we are very cautious,” said David Thangliana of the Mizoram Pradesh Congress Committee.

The state’s BJP president JV Hluna said the notification would not “affect Mizoram at all”. “Nothing can happen without the state government’s approval,” he said. Hluna said the BJP in Mizoram “won’t support a ban on cow slaighter in Mizoram territory”.

Nagaland: ‘Might as well be separated from India’

In Nagaland, the ban has evoked equally sharp responses. The Naga Hoho, a powerful tribal civil society body, contended that the notification undermined “religion, way of life and food habits” of the Naga people. “Laws like these can never be implemented in Nagaland,” Naga Hoho President, Chuba Ozukum. “Without beef, it will impossible for Naga people to survive.”

Nagaland is ruled by a coalition that is headed by the National People’s Front and has BJP as an ally. Although no other party sends any representatives to the state legislature, the Congress does have a fair presence in the state’s politics. Its president K Therie asserted that such a ban was not acceptable to the people in the state. “If the BJP wants to ban beef, Nagaland might as well be separated from India,” he said. “This is very serious, we cannot obey this rule, we will have to violate it.”