Behind increased biases towards the unorganized meat market, is it religious affinities or domination of private sectors?
As a diverse country like India, food habits range widely. One of the most consumed food is meat. Meat constitutes an industry of its own that serves groups of meat suiting consumer needs. Well, that’s the topic for another discussion.
Some trends have emerged in the market equation of meat in India. Looking at the consumption numbers, 70% of women and 78% of men consume meat in India (NFHS-4). Consumption of meat in India is thoroughly related to religious identity. 72% of Hindus believe that they should not eat beef; 77% of Muslims stated the same about pork. However, meat has now assumed a sentimental value.
Examining events of recent times, meat has gained importance as a topic of discussion. It is now considered more than a food item which has sparked right-wing groups being hostile towards it. It begs the question, is meat the problem or sellers and consumers?
Meat shops witness darkness owing to the decision to close down on Tuesdays by the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon. Carts selling non-vegetarian foods have been banned from main roads in Ahmedabad. They also cannot be within 100 meters of religious places. In addition, public displays of meat installs have been subjected to bans in stalls and restaurants in Vadodara.
These incidents enforce a common ground with buzzwords like “Hindu sentiments”, “religious sentiments”, etc. It is assumed that meat is seen as something impure which might hurt religious sentiments. But how are these incidents affecting trade over the years?
Gurgaon meat market is now combating the enormous license renewal fee of ₹10000 with an additional charge in case of illegal store operations of ₹5000. Sellers are now complying as it’s the only option available at hand. However, the general perception is loss of business with the increased license fee, making survival minimum.
Uttar Pradesh has also issued new guidelines on closing illegal slaughterhouses. Restrictions of several kinds have been imposed, making the market operational at a slower pace. Shifting in locations, putting up curtains, acquiring health certificates from government doctors and multiple NOCs, this unorganized sector is confused about how to act upon it.
They stopped Muslims from praying in public places.
But, some locals stepped in and opened up their hearts and spaces so that the wronged Muslims could pray in peace.
— Youth Ki Awaaz (@YouthKiAwaaz) November 19, 2021
UP terminating illegal slaughterhouses can lead to losses of about ₹400 crore. India’s meat industry has one of the highest employment numbers, with 22 million people, and UP alone employs 15 million people. A pretty sizable number indeed! This has far-reaching effects even on the capital as Delhi sees soaring prices of mutton at almost ₹500/kilograms in certain areas. Problems persist in places due to the unavailability of slaughterhouses like in the Firozabad district. This will lead to meat markets being void.
Outlining the developments adding to the perils of sellers from the unorganized meat market, somewhere along the line, the entry process for big players is becoming easier. Almost 90% of the meat sector is unorganized. This has created opportunities for private sectors and online meat sellers.
The online meat market thrived when the pandemic struck a blow to the small meat business. FreshToHome, Licious, Meatigo might have faced a bumpy road initially. But the pandemic favoured them, and consumers switched from traditional meat markets to organized ones claiming chemical-free and antibiotic-free chicken and hand-raised meat.
Al Kabeer, PML Industries Ltd, MKR Frozen Pvt. Ltd and so on are flourishing. These players have influenced the international meat market and India’s entry with an aggressive rise of commodity branding; it’s beginning to change the economics of the Indian meat processing industries. But there is a possible catch.
Hindu businessmen coincidentally own all these big businesses. The top names in the meat export industries include the majority. So considering the religion and business nexus, it’s easier for them to gain favouritism. Now can you identify favouritism through the lens of religious affinities? Maybe the cases of a free hand in operating and fewer rules.
Highlighting the beef aspect, it has triggered various controversies. Violent instances have been reported with beef consumption, mostly citing religious affiliations. The 2015 Dadri lynching over beef consumption points the bias. When a community is being targeted for beef consumption, the analysis shows how beef exporters do not belong to that community. Majority of the beef exporters are Hindu. Yet, India is still one of the largest beef exporters globally. So much for religious sentiments huh?
Circling back to our traditional meat markets, incidents of daily harassment is not new. Small business owners were targeted along religious lines when instances of right-wing factions such as Bajrang Dal and other Hindu supremacist groups imposed closing of shops during the festival of Navratri. Muslim business owners share their plight and comply with the orders to escape violence. With videos being viral, the Gauraksha Hindu Dal leader is seen demanding the closure of meat shops during Navratri.
So can this be termed as a religious conspiracy or a move to disintegrate the unorganized market? 46% of Muslims in India are self-employed, compared to other communities, according to the NSSO report, 2013. Attempts can be viewed in the prospect of disabling the traditional market system and replacing it with the new age alternative. But how to compensate for those living hand to mouth existence? Lockdown has immensely affected this industry; with stocks rotting and no one to buy from them, these sellers lost their livelihood.
Interpreting the present scenario, the traditional market is faced with massive competition from online sellers and religious authorities. The convenience of door to door delivery and ready to cook items too charmed the consumers. We can conclude by stating how the obvious target angle is apparent, but establishing the talk about privatization will require time. At present, only the small business owners, predominantly Muslims, are suffering; Hindu meat business owners are continuing to make profits safely. So we have to ask ourselves, is it really about the meat or the religion?
Note: The author is part of the Dec ’21 batch of the Writer’s Training Program.