Meat And Liquor Ban In Mathura Towns Polarises Hindus and Muslims On Expected Lines

by Swati Goel Sharma - Jun 26, 2018 08:43 AM
Meat And Liquor Ban In Mathura Towns Polarises Hindus and Muslims On Expected LinesRepresentational image
  • Meat and liquor have been banned in several towns of the Mathura district after they were declared holy pilgrimage sites by the government.

    While the Hindus have mostly welcomed the ban, the Muslims say it is hurting their livelihood and food habits, and are eyeing it with suspicion.

It's been a long-standing demand of Hindu seers and many locals that the entire Braj region in Uttar Pradesh be declared meat and alcohol free. This region, mainly around Mathura-Vrindavan, but extending to Agra and Aligarh, is considered Krishnabhoomi (the land of Krishna) and hence sacred.

Their demand was met partially in October 2017 when the state government banned the sale and consumption of meat in the nagar palika (municipality) and nagar panchayats of Vrindavan and Barsana. It was done after according the two holy places the status of pavitra teerth sthal (holy pilgrimage site) in government records.

It was for the first time that the state took such a decision for any site after Haridwar, which is now part of Uttarakhand. There are other cities in India that have been accorded with the status, such as Amritsar, which has also had meat and liquor banned for long.

While Vrindavan is where Lord Krishna is said to have grown up, Barsana is where Radha was born and lived. Both places are a huge draw among devotees.

A boy poses for a picture during Holi celebrations in Vrindavan
A boy poses for a picture during Holi celebrations in Vrindavan
Getty Images

The move means that not even eggs can be sold within the municipal limits of the two towns.

Since then, five more towns of the Mathura district have been officially conferred the holy site status. These are nagar panchayats of Baldev, Govardhan, Gokul, Nandgaon and Radha Kund, all historically and culturally associated with Krishna.

The government statement declaring the ban, read, "The nagar panchayat areas of Govardhan, Radhakund, Nandgaon, Gokul and Baldev are playing grounds of Lord Krishna, his elder brother Balram and Radha Rani. The religious affairs department had declared these places as holy sites on March 22, 2018.... Keeping in view the religious importance of these places, liquor has been prohibited there."

The statement said that there were 32 liquor shops in the five nagar panchayats and all of these would be shifted to minimise the loss of excise, which is Rs 11 crore.

However, the ban in these five towns is enforced only on the sale and consumption of liquor. So far, it's not been extended to meat.

Last year, UP’s Religious Affairs Minister, Lakshmi Narayan Chaudhary, told a newspaper that declaring Mathura panchayat as a holy site is encountering some "problems" but that it will "happen in due course".

But media reports have speculated that the reason could be that Mathura, unlike Vrindavan and Barsana, have considerable Muslim populations that are involved in the meat business.

Meanwhile, to know the effects of the ban, we visited Vrindavan, where it’s been in place for eights months now.

Several towns of Mathura have been declared ‘holy sites’ for the first time under the Yogi Adityanath government
Several towns of Mathura have been declared ‘holy sites’ for the first time under the Yogi Adityanath government
Getty Images

Shehzad Qureshi is a resident of Mathura Darwaza, a busy marketplace in Vrindavan. His locality, comprising all Muslims families, was the only place where meat was openly sold in the town. The circular in October meant he had to shut down his business overnight. "I was rendered unemployed. Now I am making ends meeting by working as a labourer," he told Swarajya.

Shehzad said he used to sell about 50-60 kilograms of meat daily.

"If the government can't provide us alternate jobs, should it take away our only means of employment," he asked.

Locals say there were more than 20 shops in the locality that were engaged in the meat business, that in turn employed over a 100 people. They didn't slaughter the animals, but sourced the meat from the municipal slaughterhouse in Agra some 15 kilometres away. Most of these shop owners that Swarajya spoke to, strongly disapproved of the government's decision to ban meat in its effort to boost the spiritual significance of Vrindavan.

"The meat market was restricted to this colony. It was harming no one," said Shahrukh Khan, another resident, who is an advocate.

Rasheed Mohammad Qureshi, a former meat seller in Vrindavan's Mathura Darwaza
Rasheed Mohammad Qureshi, a former meat seller in Vrindavan's Mathura Darwaza
Getty Images

Meat sellers say they are particularly hurt by the way the administration went about enforcing the ban. "We were not given any notice. We had not read the newspapers to know that our businesses were now illegal. But police landed at our houses and picked us up. They took away the remaining stock of meat. I was locked up up for a week," said Rasheed Mohammad Qureshi, 78.

According to residents, things have become so bad that the police has started apprehending those who bring meat from the Agra slaughterhouse. "Even the consumption is banned. We are not allowed to even buy meat from outside," said Qureshi.

Meat sellers say they had the necessary licence from the local municipal body to run their business.

The opinion is starkly different in the rest of Mathura Darwaza.

Residents say the ban cost them their livelihoods
Residents say the ban cost them their livelihoods

Traders, mostly Hindus, say the meat shops have always been illegal, but were "enjoying a free run" under the erstwhile Samajwadi Party government. "Don't believe their licences. They are all fraudulently obtained. This place has been a holy site for centuries. Everybody, including them, knows it," said Rasik Ballabh, a local councillor.

Asked about the loss of livelihoods, traders dismissed it as a non-issue. "They can do a thousand other jobs. Most members of the Muslim community in Vrindavan are involved in making poshak (costume) for Krishna idols or working in temples. Others drive autorickshaws and deal in scrap. Only a handful of them were in the meat business, so there has hardly been any aberration," says Ballabh.

By now, several traders have joined in the conversation, and they all agree with Ballabh.

"Vrindavan mein meat aur sharab ka kya kaam?” (what's the point of meat and liquor in a place like Vrindavan) said a trader.

"We are very happy with the ban. It had always been there, but was not enforced properly," he added.

About 10 km away in Mathura town, meat traders have kept their fingers crossed about the possibility of the ban extending to their area.

Zameel Ahmed, manager of an eatery that has three branches in the town, said that while he understood that the place has religious significance, he could not understand whose sentiments exactly was the sale of meat hurting.

Daresi road in Mathura
Daresi road in Mathura

"They say that the sight and smell of meat hurts the sentiments of Hindus. But they are not considering the lower castes, fifty per cent of whom eat meat," said Ahmed.

"We have been running this business for four decades and no one has harassed us," said another restaurateur who did not wish to be named. "Par ab Yogiji ki sarkar hai,” (but it's Yogi Adityanath's government) he smirked.

While it's waiting to be seen if the administration enforces the meat ban in Mathura too, it's clear that the issue has polarised the Hindu and Muslim communities along expected lines.

But as is evident from our conversation with residents of Mathura Darwaza who indulged in meat business, the government’s decision doesn’t seem to have much impact economically there, as a very low quantity of meat was consumed in the town.

A Hindu shop owner at Daresi Road, who did not wish to be named, told Swarajya that the perception that the ban is affecting only one community is wrong. “Liquor business is not in the hands of the Muslim community,” he said. “It is wrong to view the bans as communal.”

In any case, the majority Hindu community has mostly welcomed the ban, while the Muslim community, who feels this is indirectly hurting their livelihood and dietary habits, is eyeing it with deep suspicion.

Meanwhile, the debate over whether the government should be dictating what people can eat or what they can’t, continues to rock streets and debate studios.

Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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