The Gurgaon Municipal Corporation (MCG) recently decided to keep all meat shops in the city closed on Tuesdays. The decision was taken at the general body meeting, though the issue was not on agenda. It was, however, taken up for discussion after some councillors raised it citing ‘ disrespect for Hindu beliefs.’
The demand for closing meat shops once a week was raised by BJP councillor Ashwani Sharma. He said that Tuesday is auspicious for Hindus and a day when Hanuman is especially revered. Therefore, sale and consumption of something like meat on such a sacred day is “disrespect to Hindu sentiments.”
Subash Singhala, also a BJP councilor, agreed with Sharma’s view and suggested that meat shops must be shut on Tuesday in “respect of Hindu beliefs”. After this, the matter, which was not on the meeting’s agenda, became the sole topic of discussion and other BJP members joined in the chorus.
MCG commissioner Vinay Pratap Singh intervened, saying that there could be people who eat non-vegetarian food on Tuesdays and it would be inappropriate to restrain individual’s choice of food. “It is every person’s choice (to eat or not eat non-vegetarian food). So, I think the House should think carefully before deciding for the entire city,” he said.
The House, however, unanimously voted in favour of closing meat shops on Tuesdays. Mayor Madhu Azad said, “The members argued in favour of keeping meat shops closed on Tuesdays citing ‘Hindu sentiments’ and they are completely right.”
Later, Ashwani Sharma told media, “It is my personal belief that all meat shops should be closed not just on Tuesdays but on all days of the week. People can get other things to eat and it is not necessary that they should consume meat. I think I did not do anything wrong in raising this demand.”
“Undemocratic and Unconstitutional”
No major Indian state or city has ever passed such an order, mandating a uniform weekly closure of meat shops. In most states, owners decide which day of the week they close their business. No other city in Haryana has ever passed such an order.
Some of the people The Federal spoke to in Gurugram said they had no problem with meat shops remaining open on Tuesdays. Mukesh Sharma, a resident, said, “My parents do not eat meat. My sister and I do. My sister distances herself from meat on Tuesdays while I don’t follow such restrictions. It is an individual’s wish. I don’t know why MCG has an issue with it.”
Kuldeep Singh, another resident, said, “There are no meat shops near temples in Gurgaon. I don’t eat meat on Tuesdays, but that is my personal choice. Just a bunch of people sitting at the top can’t take such a decision for the entire city. It is undemocratic and unconstitutional.”
The general body also decided to increase the license fee for meat shops from Rs 5,000 at present to Rs 10,000, and hike the penalty on unauthorised butchers from the existing Rs 500 to Rs 5,000.
Pritam Bhagat, president of Meat Market Association in Gurgaon, said, “When COVID started last year, they said that coronavirus is spreading due to meat and we went into losses. When we started recovering this year, bird flu came and we again suffered losses. Now they have increased the license fee with one day off in a week. People sitting in that room, who passed the Tuesday shop closure order, might not eat meat on Tuesdays, but we still get decent business on that day. It is very unfortunate that the MCG takes such a unilateral decision on behalf of the people.”
Bid to create unrest between Hindus and Muslims?
Out of a total of 179 registered meat shops in Gurugram, 80 percent belong to the Muslim community. Some believe the step was taken to create a divide between Hindus and Muslims.
“In Haryana, Muslims have significant numbers only in Gurugram. The decision to keep meat shops closed on Tuesdays is aimed at creating a divide among Hindus and Muslims, who live peacefully. The BJP wants to turn a non-issue into an issue to garner Hindu votes,” said Sameer Khanna, a human rights activist based out of Gurugram.
Abdul Raza, a meat seller in Jacobpura, said, “The decision will impact our business. Everyone has the right to his/her religious beliefs, but can someone’s religious belief be allowed to become the reason for other person’s loss?”
Hyderabad Lok Sabha MP and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) Asaduddin Owaisi also hit out at the MCG’s decision. “How can beliefs get hurt by what other people are doing in their private lives? People are buying, selling or eating meat, they are not forcing you to partake. By this logic, close alcohol shops on Friday? Meat is food for millions of Indians. Cannot treat it as something impure,” Owaisi tweeted.