Despite the fact that about 1 billion of Indiaâ€™s Hindus revere the cow as a maternal figure, the country overtook Brazil to become the worldâ€™s largest bovine meat exporter in 2014, driven by low-cost water buffalo meat from culled dairy animals. Now Indiaâ€™s buffalo meat export on edge amid UP govtâ€™s pledge to shut illegal abattoirs. Buffalo meat exports dropped 2.4% in the first 10 months of the 2016-17 year, according to government data. The meat industryâ€™s problems intensified after the BJP appointed Yogi Adityanath to lead Uttar Pradesh, a decision perceived by some as a concession to religious conservatives. The industry, which earns about $4.8 billion annually and employs about 2.5 million people, is operating around 40 percent capacity, according to the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association.
Representatives of the meat industry say cow vigilantes, emboldened by BJP election promises to shut illegal slaughterhouses and ban mechanized abattoirs in Uttar Pradesh, have been stopping vehicles, extorting money, beating people up and in some cases stealing the valuable animals. In the state of Rajasthan, vigilantes beat a Muslim dairy farmer to death earlier this month. The Uttar Pradesh government says itâ€™s merely enforcing licensing laws ignored by previous administrations and doesnâ€™t condone the attacks.
Some suggest vigilantes are acting with the implicit support of the government and police. â€œOtherwise, they could not do it,â€ said Sirajuddin Qureshi, managing director of Hind Agro Industries Ltd., private meat exporter.
To some in the meat sector, it makes no sense to be shutting factories at a time when India needs jobs. In Uttar Pradesh, one of the countryâ€™s poorest states, per capita income is just $625, according to the government, slightly more than half the India average of around $1,150.