A civic official’s order calling for a ban on meat shops in India’s national capital Delhi during the Hindu festival of Navratri has caused furore as several opposition lawmakers lashed out against the “majoritarian” policy.
On Tuesday, many meat shops were shut in the capital while some functioned from behind closed doors amid confusion about the directive, including if it would be enforced at all.
No meat shops will be open in South Delhi during Navratri, between 2 April and 11 April, because religious sentiments of Hindus are affected when “they come across meat shops or when they have to bear with the foul smell on their way to offer prayers”, the district mayor Mukkesh Suryaan wrote to the commissioner of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation on Monday.
“In these days, people forgo even use of onions and garlic in their diet and the sight of meat being sold in open or near temples make them uncomfortable,” he added in the letter.
Though authorities have not yet issued an official order, customers who wanted to buy meat were turned away from some markets. Owners of meat shops in South Delhi’s INA market – which has 40 such shops – said they were not in business on Tuesday, fearing action from authorities and protests.
Civic officials in the other parts of the national capital – East Delhi and North Delhi – have supported similar orders, while the MP from West Delhi suggested that such a ruling should be implemented across India.
The Hindu festival of Navratri is celebrated for nine days, when devotees fast and abstain from eating meat, onion, garlic or consuming liquor.
In India, an estimated 70 per cent of people eat meat, according to a 2014 survey conducted by the Registrar General of India (RGI).
The order to ban meat shops, therefore, has drawn a sharp response from several quarters.
Workers are upset about losing their daily wages while politicians have alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to score political points ahead of local body elections with such unconstitutional rules.
West Bengal’s Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra, an outspoken critic of prime minister Narendra Modi’s government, said: “The Constitution allows me to eat meat when I like and the shopkeeper the freedom to run his trade. Full stop.”
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah called out the “majoritarianism”.
“During Ramzan we don’t eat between sunrise & sunset,” he said. “I suppose it’s OK if we ban every non-Muslim resident or tourist from eating in public, especially in the Muslim dominated areas.”
He added: “If majoritarianism is right for South Delhi, it has to be right for J&K.”
This year, Ramadan and Navratri fall in the same month around similar dates.
Congress leader Salman Nizami criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party for being hypocritical.
“They have problem with meat shops in South Delhi, but promise quality beef in North East and Goa,” Mr Nizami wrote on Twitter. “Hypocrisy thy name is BJP!”
He added: “If the sale of meat is to be closed during Navratri, then why not ban liquor during the Holy month of Ramadan? If you don’t eat onion or meat in Navrati’s why stop others. Is this democracy? What about our sentiments & constitutional rights?”
Member of National Restaurant Association of India Vineeth Wadhwa told NDTV: “This act is draconian. First beef, now meat and halal. Don’t know what we need to prepare ourselves for”.
Historian Rana Safvi said there were many Muslims in the country who would not be able to afford to buy meat from online grocery sites to cook food during Ramzan.
Delhi is governed by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party. However, the party has not issued the order to ban meat shops.
Politicians of Mr Modi’s ruling BJP party, which has been accused of being discriminatory against Muslims, have called for the ban.