A halal meat shop. [Source: Peter Trimming/Wikimedia Commons]
Snapshot
  • We are effectively moving towards a situation where one community will enjoy complete monopoly over the whole meat industry worth billions of dollars based on religious identity.

A Zomato customer cancelling his order because the delivery boy was a Muslim has sparked off a series of debates around dietary choices, constitutional rights, religious bigotry, caste discrimination and what not.

One of the most intense of these is around Zomato’s reply to the customer that ‘food has no religion’ and the subsequent calling out of the food delivery service app by customers who reminded it that it has been very sensitive in the past to Muslim sentiments in ensuring they get only halal meat, which, by definition, means meat that is permissible in Islam.

Zomato clarified that that was simply ‘demand and supply’ powers at play and it would gladly cater to delivering jhatka meat too if there is demand for it.

It is pertinent to note that Muslims, who want halal meat, are only 15 per cent of the country’s population but halal meat sold in India is much higher in proportion and is increasing every year. Since, a minority section of the population deeply cares about the kind of meat it prefers and the rest 85 per cent couldn’t care less about the method of meat preparation, it is inevitable that the minority population will end up thrusting its religious food choice on the whole country as it is convenient for sellers to just provide halal meat.

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This trend is however problematic because it’s not just a matter of simple economics.

According to the Halal Certification Services India Pvt Ltd (HCS), a state-run agency providing halal certification, ‘Animals killed in the name of anyone other than ALLAH (God) are haram ‘without any doubt’.

Halal trust website of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (largest Muslim organisation in India) states that the halal slaughter man must ‘be a Muslim’, ‘be authorized and be under the supervision of a certified Islamic organization’, and ‘slaughter the animal according to Islamic rite including recitation of Bismillah Allahu-Akbar before slaughtering each animal.’

Now understand this in the context of an increasing share of halal meat industry. We are effectively moving towards a situation where one community will enjoy complete monopoly over the whole meat industry worth billions of dollars based on religious identity.

We must ask if this is even constitutional. It certainly seems to be in contravention of the SC/ST act, which outlaws economic boycott.

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Section 3(1)(zc) of the act reads: ‘Whoever, not being a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe imposes or threatens a social or economic boycott of any person or a family or a group belonging to a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to five years and with fine”, where economic boycott means ‘a refusal to deal with, work for hire or do business with other person’ among other things.

Now, the fast-growing halal-compliant slaughter industry might argue that it is positively discriminating in favour of Muslims and there is no boycott per se at least on SCs/STs by the virtue of them being from reserved communities; but that doesn’t matter as the reading of the text is clear that the only conditions that need to be satisfied are:

a) if there is economic boycott; b) the one being boycotted is an SC/ST; and c) the one boycotting is not an SC/ST.

It would be interesting to see the Indian judiciary ruling on this matter.

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Nonetheless, the bottom-line is that one religion seeks to achieve monopoly over a whole industry. What is it but economic jihad, a war in the monetary realm inspired by religious ideals to gain an upper hand over the infidels?

My usage of jihad here shouldn't be taken in a negative sense. It's a brilliant strategy and every group strives to gain in strength using all means at its disposal. However, I believe this is not healthy for the Indian nation.

Both the state as well as the society at large will have to come together to ensure that discrimination in employment in such a blatant manner is discontinued.

The proliferation in halal compliant products is not just an India-centric trend. It’s a worldwide issue. According to The Daily Mail, “51 per cent of lamb, 31 per cent of chicken, and 7 per cent of beef slaughtered in Britain – from a total of 16 million animals per week – is now 'religiously killed', according to the FSA [Food Standards Agency]. That's far more than the Muslim community, which constitutes around five percent of the country’s population, can possibly consume.”

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A study by Adroit Market Research shows that the global halal market size reached 4.54 trillion dollars in 2017 (way more than the current GDP of countries like Germany, India and UK) and is expected to rise to 9.71 trillion dollars by 2025.

India has 15 per cent of Muslim population which translates to more than 10 per cent of World’s Muslim population. Additionally, half of India’s food export is imported by Muslim countries which are part of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Obviously, India is going to be a huge market for halal products.

While one is concerned about the creation of the halal meat industry, which effectively means “of the Muslims, by the Muslims, for everyone”, it is important to note that halal meat is only one part of this debate. Even vegetarian food can be halal certified.

Apart from food items, certification can be sought for ‘non-alcohol beverage, raw materials needed in food processing, pharmaceutical and health care products, traditional herbal products, cosmetics and personal care products, cleaning products, daily consumable products and leather-made products (e.g. shoes, furniture and hand-bag).’

While the former (halal meat) must be opposed because of its inherently bigoted nature (halal has pure/impure connotations - animals slaughtered by non-Muslims are unfit to be consumed), there is a lot to learn from how the Muslim Ummah is creating a global economic ecosystem around halal certification.

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Islamic organisations are the biggest beneficiaries of the certification business. For instance, Jamiat Ulima-i-Hind charges Rs 20,000 for registration of an Indian company and Rs 500 for each product (GST charges are extra). Then there is renewal fee of Rs 15,000 as the registration is valid only for one year. These religious organisations are the intermediaries between producers and consumers and charge a fee for their services which ensures regular income to them.

As the halal certification business grows each year, they acquire more and more money power, which can then be utilised in funding religious works furthering Islam’s influence. By demanding a simple religious obligation from its followers, Islam has created a massive ecosystem out of nothing simply by drawing on the commitment of the devout.

There is a lesson for others to learn from this if they want to: on harnessing the power of numbers to further increase your strength.

So, while the economic jihad of the halal meat kind, which is rooted in bigotry and discrimination against non-Muslims must be fought tooth and nail, there is lot to learn from how Islam is harnessing the power of commitment of its followers to create an ecosystem to serve and further its cause.

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