NEW DELHI: Officials from the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) said on Saturday that restaurants in the district risk losing their licenses if they fail to display the method of slaughter used for animal meat served at their eateries, even as commentators said the move was akin to “communalizing food.”
“Under the new rule, when restaurants acquire a license, they will have to write what meat they will sell – halal or jhatka. We will cancel the license of the restaurants which fail to display the label,” Rajdutt Gahlot, SDMC’s standing chairman, told Arab News on Saturday.
It follows an order passed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-controlled SDMC in the third week of January this year, asking restaurants to label how meat was slaughtered.
In the halal or Islamic form of slaughtering, animals are killed by cutting through the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe, to ensure all the blood is drained from the carcass.
In contrast, in the jhatka style of slaughter, the animal dies instantly after its head is severed in one single blow.
Gahlot said clear labeling of the slaughter technique was needed for non-halal meat consumers “who will not visit restaurants selling such meat.”
“(In the same manner), persons looking for halal meat will not visit outlets selling jhatka meat and this way it will avoid crowds in eateries,” he said.
The draft resolution passed on Dec. 24 by the SDMC said: “According to Hinduism and Sikhism, eating halal meat is forbidden and against religion ... Therefore, the committee resolves that restaurants and butchers be directed to write mandatorily about the meat sold and served by them … whether halal or jhatka meat is available there.”
Gahlot confirmed to Arab News that the resolution “has been passed,” but he refused to comment on the issue.
In August last year, the BJP-controlled East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) had also passed a similar order, with media reports suggesting that North Delhi could follow suit soon. New Delhi is divided into four zones.
There are more than 2,000 eateries in the up-market SDMC area which serve close to 3 million people. More than 80 percent of the eateries sell halal meat since most of those involved in the meat trade are from the Muslim community.
The National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) had initially resisted the move to impose the order.
However, it said that it does not “foresee any significant changes in the consumption pattern of the customers.”
“Consumers currently enjoy the right to ask what kind of meat an eatery serves, and every restaurateur is obliged to answer this question. The consumer decides accordingly,” said Neha Grover, NRAI marketing and communication manager.
“However, if there are significant changes in consumer demand, the restaurants will adapt to it like they do with any other consumer preferences, subject to the availability of what consumers are seeking,” she added.
Restaurant owners in New Delhi, however, said they were “intrigued” by the SDMC’s move, especially since “people don’t care whether they are eating halal or jhatka meat.”
“My customers hardly ask me whether the meat I sell is halal or jhatka,” said Rajeev Kapoor of the popular south Delhi eatery Rajendra Da Dhaba, adding that he “won’t mind displaying the label if that helps the customer.”
“The main concern of most of the customers is hygiene and the freshness of the meat. Even otherwise we sell halal meat in our shop as most of the suppliers are Muslim,” he said.
Alam Mahe, who runs an outlet in south Delhi agrees and said that while he “had no issue with the order,” his main concern was “to recover from the losses suffered during the pandemic-induced lockdown.”
On the other hand, Muslim meat traders said they were “apprehensive” about the move.
“What is the need for such an order? Customers hardly ask about the label of the meat. I hope this issue does not become one more reason for division in the society,” said Fahim Ansari, a meat trader in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar area.
Since the BJP assumed power in Delhi in 2014, it has imposed a beef ban. The slaughter of cows, an animal sacred to the majority Hindus, is banned and the consumption of beef is restricted in most Indian states.
There have been instances of lynching and dozens of people, mostly Muslims, have been killed after being accused of eating beef or slaughtering cows. Some BJP-controlled state governments have also clamped down on the meat trade.
Commenting on the SDMC’s latest directive, the Indian Express, a leading English newspaper in the country, questioned the BJP’s motive in passing such a “divisive order”.
“The motive seems to be to pit people involved in the animal trade against each other. By branding food served according to the religion of those who provide it, the BJP-controlled SDMC is trying to communalize food,” it said.
The former chief of Delhi Minority Commission, Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan, agreed and termed the move as “warfare against Muslims” and an attempt to “marginalize” the Muslims economically.
“The decision of the BJP-controlled Delhi Municipal Corporation is part of an economic warfare against Muslims,” he told Arab News. “The BJP started with severe restrictions on the meat business soon after it came to power in 2014. The hide business, also controlled by Muslims, has been almost ruined.”
Khan added that by “writing halal on the signboards of meat shops and eateries will mean that many Hindus and Sikhs will not deal with such shops. It may soon be replicated in other states controlled by the BJP.”
The idea, he said, is to “marginalize and impoverish Muslims” who traditionally control most of the meat business in the country.