A government advisory body, Animal Welfare Board of India, is launching a campaign to crack down on slaughter of animals for sacrifice, the Hindustan Times reported on Sunday. Bakrid, a major Muslim festival that is celebrated with animal sacrifice, will fall in late August this year.

Volunteers of the animal welfare board will “watch out for and report any instances of cruelty to animals”, the report said. Animal Welfare Board of India is a statutory body that works under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

“If anyone does animal sacrifice, that is punishable, no animal is exempted,” board chairperson SP Gupta was quoted as saying. “People are not aware, they link it to religion, but this is not a religion thing. In no religion can you kill animals.”

He added: “If the state government does not act on complaints, we will act. We will file complaints with law enforcement, and if that does not work we will file cases in court against the authorities.”

Animal sacrifice is not banned completely in India. In May 2017, the Centre banned the sale of all kinds of cattle for slaughter at animal markets across the country, including for religious purposes. The rules had a major impact on cattle slaughter across the country – even though it did not ban slaughter itself.

“There is no ban per se,” Gupta said. “If it is in your religion, then there are criteria [by law] on how to kill animals that no one follows.”

Lawyer Abdul Faheem Qureshi, the president of the All India Jamiatul Quresh Action Committee, told the Hindustan Times that the campaign was meant to target Muslims. “They are only concerned about cattle, they are targeting the Muslim community,” Qureshi said. “If they impose the provisions, every action will be an offence.”

Harsh Mander, the director of Centre for Equity Studies, also alleged that the campaign is directed at communities that sacrifice animals as rituals, especially Muslims. “This idea that animal protection is what is motivating us, is a very thin one,” he added.