January 12, 2017 3:52:52 am
ELECTIONS to municipal bodies may commonly be dominated by highly localised concerns of voting communities, such as an overflowing drain, contaminated water supply, unpaved roads or the condition of the nearby public school or dispensary. But in and around the Deonar abattoir, India’s largest such facility at 64 acres, discussions about the coming elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation invariably veer towards a nearly two-year-old development: the ban on slaughter of bulls. While slaughter of cows was already banned in Maharashtra, the beef ban law or the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill that came into force in March 2015 prevented trade in bull meat. Nearly two years have passed since, but for the Qureshi community, the losses from the ban continue to hurt, and their support in the coming polls is to any candidate or party who will back their continuing litigation against the beef ban.
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Forty-four year old Babu Ghulam Rasool Shaikh, employed at the Deonar abattoir for 22 years now, says the number of animals being slaughtered has dipped by 40 per cent in two years. “Earlier, we earned Rs 1,000-1,500 per day. Apart from household expenses, we were able to save some money. Since the ban, our daily income is down to Rs 400-500, which doesn’t even cover the basic expenses,” he says. Shaikh adds that the number of butchers working in the abattoir has itself fallen, from 250 in two shifts to about 150 people doing both shifts.
For 45-year-old Hussain Shaikh, the demonetisation last November proved to be an additional blow. “Our income had reduced, but we had savings and were managing. Many of us didn’t have bank accounts and kept our money at home. After November, we found that all our savings was in currency that was no longer valid,” says Shaikh. He has not paid his rent for two months. “I have four children and the money I earn everyday is just enough for their food. The job at the abattoir is a full day’s work and I have no time to do a second job simultaneously,” he rues.
The butchers as well as shopowners are unanimous in supporting any party that promises to push for a rollback of the beef ban, and also for a party that can keep the BJP out of the winning stakes. Mohammad Qureshi, president of the Bombay Beef Association, says shopowners have suffered the repercussions too. “Apart from the quality of meat, due to the limit on cash withdrawals, customers who regularly purchased one kilogram of meat earlier are now only asking for 250 gms and are spending sparingly. Others bring Rs 2,000 notes and we have to turn them away as we don’t have so much change. The situation is so frustrating. Everyone is angry with the BJP,” he says.
Mumbai unit chief of the BJP Ashish Shelar is unfazed. The beef ban is not a civic issue at all, he says. “For the BMC elections, we will stick to a development-oriented agenda. We will focus on civic issues such as good water supply, good roads and others,” he says.
Despite the government’s insistence that the impact on business is limited on account of the continuing business around other animals, the butchers cite different numbers. Prior to the ban, about 650 animals were being slaughtered on average everyday, of which 95 per cent were bulls. “Since the ban was imposed, in most months only around 130 buffaloes are slaughtered daily while during the festive months (Eid and Christmas), around 220 buffaloes are slaughtered,” says Babu Shaikh.
The buffaloes come from various parts of Maharashtra, including Karad, Vadgaon, Kolhapur and elsewhere.
An overall reduction in meat sales means truck drivers whose job was to bring animals to the Deonar abattoir, and others, found profits nosediving too. “Earlier, we used to have around 250 trucks that would transport meat, skin and other animal parts. With the number of animals being slaughtered dropping, truck owners whose profits were hit began to ply their vehicles elsewhere. Today, only about 40 trucks transport the meat here twice a day,” says Babu Shaikh.
The quality of meat also defines its profitability — a kilo of bull meat used to sell for Rs 180, while buffalo meat only sells for Rs 120. Similarly, while skin of a bull would sell for Rs 220 per kilo, that of a buffalo only sells for Rs 140. Also, buffalo meat is simply the less preferred option, meaning the ban on bull meat did not simply mean that consumers shifted to buying water buffalo meat. Haji Mehfooz, 65, president of the Beef Wholesale Retailer Association, says his shop at Crawford Market has been running in losses for months. “Earlier, I sold around 400 kg of bull meat per day. Now I am barely able to sell 50-60 kg of buffalo meat — people prefer mutton or chicken instead. Small-time hotels are the only stable customers I still have,” he complains.
Down the food chain, many others were impacted too — fewer workers are employed in meat shops now in order to slow the decline, some of those suddenly without jobs either left the industry or the city, allied businesses that depend on abattoirs also took the brunt.
To counter it all, the Qureshi community believed a united opposition to the BJP was necessary, even if that appears to be an idle dream. Qureshi says, “The BJP-led government’s initiatives such as the beef ban and demonetisation didn’t stop to consider the effect on people. If the Congress, NCP and Samajwadi Party could have come together, they could have countered the BJP’s candidates and made a real difference.”
He laments that in the current scenario, the Samajwadi Party will only get the Muslim vote, the AIMIM will divide the Congress’s votebank and the NCP is barely a presence. “We will thus support any candidate who can defeat the BJP candidate in that ward,” he says.
The Qureshi community has members in considerable numbers in Kurla, Madanpura, Bandra, Mahim and near Crawford Market, though nowhere near enough to cause an upset. The community will wait for a decision on the Sena-BJP alliance, for the Shiv Sena’s stand on the ban has been that the impact on the working class should be mitigated. Member of Parliament from Dharavi, Rahul Shewale of the Shiv Sena, who is also a corporator in M-East ward where Deonar is located, says despite being an ally of the BJP, his own party remains sympathetic towards the Qureshi community and towards the Dalits whose businesses have taken a hit due to the beef ban. “After the beef ban was imposed, we had taken up the issue with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and had asked for a solution for a middle ground, keeping the legalities in mind, to provide some relief for the beef sellers. While the state government implemented the decision to ban beef, it is also their responsibility to ensure that the people who have suffered financial losses in their livelihood should be adequately rehabilitated and we will continue to take up this issue until there is a proper resolution,” Shewale told The Indian Express.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties are playing to the gallery in streets around the abattoir. Samajwadi Party corporator Rais Shaikh, who represents M East ward, says his party has been taking up the issue even though a real difference may be possible only in the legislative Assembly. “The Samajwadi Party led protests across the state when the beef ban was announced as did the MIM. Our MLA Abu Azmi has been very vocal about it. While the anguish of the Qureshi community is understandable, relief can only be granted in the Assembly and we don’t have the numbers to revoke the beef ban,” he says, admitting that even though the ban is hardly a civic issue, the SP would take it up in their election campaigns to highlight the “strategic marginalisation of Muslims and Dalits”.
The MIM’s sole Mumbai MLA Waris Pathan also promises to take up the issue during their campaigning, especially in Deonar, where they will field candidates in several wards. “The Qureshi community has been worst hit by the beef ban and, apart from meat, the business of Kolhapur slippers and production of other leather goods has also suffered. We were the first to oppose the decision in the Assembly,” says Pathan.
The Congress even plans to field a member of the Qureshi community as one of the candidates from M East. “The decision is openly discriminating on the basis of religion and caste and it is against the existence of their community. We will definitely take it up in our campaign and we will oppose such communal moves,” says Sanjay Nirupam, Mumbai Congress chief.
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