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India

Indian state chickens out after banning non-veg food

Gujarat ban targeted Muslim vendors but was withdrawn after realizing its impact on poultry firms mostly run by Hindus

Indian state chickens out after banning non-veg food

Street vendors hold placards as they protest against official orders to remove their carts and stalls selling non-vegetarian food items from the streets in Ahmedabad, India, on Nov. 16. (Photo: Sam Panthaky/AFP)

The provincial government in the western Indian state of Gujarat was compelled to roll back a ban on serving non-vegetarian food by street vendors after the poultry industry mostly run by Hindus objected to it.

The municipal authorities of four major cities — Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Vadodara and Bhavnagar — had imposed the ban and started evicting street cart vendors and roadside stall operators citing “vegetarian sensibilities” of the majority Hindu and Jain religious communities.

The official orders stated that food containing meat, chicken and eggs should not be sold at public places within a 100-meter radius of religious places, gardens, public places, schools and colleges.

They cited complaints from local residents that the “foul smell” of non-vegetarian food was offending their religious sentiments and affecting children.

The authorities were forced to withdraw the order after criticism that it was biased against businesses of minorities, especially Muslims, serving non-vegetarian food. It was clarified that the rollback on Nov. 16 was effected considering the impact it had on the poultry industry at the peak of the winter season when demand for chicken and eggs is high.

A journalist based in Ahmedabad said the state government was forced to withdraw the ban following requests from the poultry industry. Most of the poultry firms in Gujarat, as also across the country, were run by non-Muslims, he said.

To impose a particular choice or preferences when it comes to food is part of an attempt to push one culture, one religion and one ideology

“There is no doubt the ban was targeted at a particular community but on realizing their mistake the officials withdrew the order. We welcome it because the ban was a violation of people's right to livelihood,” said Father Vincent Ekka, head of the department of tribal studies at the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute in New Delhi

Father Ekka said the decision to ban non-vegetarian food was indicative of a larger conspiracy and framework which is very dangerous for a pluralistic country like India.

“India is a multicultural society with diverse regions, cultures, languages and food habits. To impose a particular choice or preferences when it comes to food is part of an attempt to push one culture, one religion and one ideology,” he added.

Benjamin Bara, a human rights activist in New Delhi, said the Indian constitution grants protection of life and personal liberty as well as the freedom to practice trade or business of one’s choice.

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“Banning the sale of food items and removing the carts and stalls of street vendors is not the solution. It poses a serious threat to their livelihood. It also deprives people of eating what they like,” he said.

Bara said associating a state or region with a particular person or a group identity “can cause a serious threat to democracy.”

Many activists in Gujarat criticized the ban imposed by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for targeting a particular minority community who own the non-vegetarian food stalls and carts.

Bhupendra Patel, the state chief minister, clarified that his government has no problem with non-vegetarian food but the roadside carts and stalls operated in unhygienic conditions and were harmful to human health. They also impeded the smooth flow of traffic on the streets.

Congress leaders alleged the ban was first imposed in Rajkot city, a stronghold of Hindu organizations and home to a sizable Jain population

The municipal authorities initially targeted only non-vegetarian food vendors due to the repeated complaints by local residents but they would also act against those serving vegetarian food violating hygiene standards.

But affected vendors said their protests had forced the administration to rectify its biased action. Media reports said the action was meant to polarize the electorate ahead of crucial state elections scheduled next year.

Pro-Hindu outfits in Gujarat as elsewhere in the county are known to demand shutting down of meat and poultry shops during the annual Hindu festival of Navratri (nine days of worship) and Paryushan, an important annual holy event for Jains.

Congress leaders alleged the ban was first imposed in Rajkot city, a stronghold of Hindu organizations and home to a sizable Jain population.

“The ban is a sign of the BJP’s social and political narrow-mindedness,” said Congress legislature Gayasuddin Sheikh.

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