Dr Noorjehan Safia Niaz of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, a group that works with underprivileged women of the community, recently led a protest at Azad Maidan against the state-wide beef ban. In an interview to Aamir Khan, the activist says the ban will end up impacting lower strata of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Did your protest against the ban see higher participation from Muslim women?
No. In addition to Muslim women belonging to the lower strata, we have Dalit Hindu and Christian women who consume beef and are involved with the beef industry in some way or the other. Women from areas such as Bharat Nagar, Behrampada, Naupada, Garib Nagar, Indranagar, Golibar, Khar (East) and Kalina have joined us.
How is the lower strata getting affected?
The biggest and most immediate impact is unemployment, for not only men but also women. Majority of these people belong to the poor working class who are either involved in beef trade or in the leather industry. The kasais or butchers for whom slaughter is the only job have been rendered jobless. There are those working in tanneries and carrying out other leather works. Nowadays, their wives and children go hungry as their diet primarily includes beef. This section does not know anything apart from working in the the sector revolving around the beef trade. The decision has affected a lot of people. With people losing jobs, families would resort to pulling out their children from school, and girl children will be the first ones to be affected. We need to look at the issue from a much larger perspective as it is going to have a chain reaction and multiple ramifications.
How does not eating beef affect the health of women and children?
Women and children belonging to the lower statra cannot afford chicken or mutton. So the only source left for getting little protein or nutrition is beef. It is the cheapest and most convenient source of protein. After the ban, their daily intake of protein and nutrition has stopped, leaving them with no option. With the steep prices, even vegetables are out of their reach.
Is the issue here religious, or is it economic?
The decision to ban beef is a communal one targeted at the marginalised Muslims and Dalits. President Pranab Mukherjee, a Congress leader, gave his assent to the Bill, which only goes to show there is no difference between the BJP and the Congress, the so-called secular force. The move is purely anti-minority and a violation of people’s constitutional right, specifically Articles 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty) and 29 (Protection of interests of minorities) of the Constitution. It is like the sarkar is now entering our kitchens and asking us what to eat. It is an extremely personal attack.
The law has been enforced, and a backtracking seems unlikely…
We have legal remedies and if necessary we will take it. I have been informed that a few people have moved petitions in the court. It is evident that more people are coming forward and agitating against the ban. We have been able to gather 5,000 signatures from people who are against the government’s decision in a day. We will appeal before the state minority minister and also the minority commission. Frankly speaking, for now, moving court seems like the best option for us.