Small-scale meat businesses, including fish sellers, tempo drivers who transport meat, small dairies, farmers and dhaba owners, on Tuesday came together at a public hearing and expressed their deep sorrow about the attacks on their livelihood with constant botheration by the police.
The hearing was organised in the national capital by Save Environment and Human Rights (SEHR), a voluntary group of university teachers, lawyers, students and activists.
The purpose of the hearing was to highlight the pressing problems faced by these people due to the arbitrary closing down of slaughter houses, attacks by the ‘gau rakshaks’ and the unannounced ban on the sale of raw meat or cooked meat dishes in dhabas and hotels in the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
It was presided over by a jury which consisted of retired judge of Delhi High Court A.P. Shah, CPI(M) Politburo member Subhashini Ali and eminent journalist Saba Naqvi while lawyer Suroor Mander moderated the public hearing.
Meat sellers and farmers spoke in detail about the attacks on their livelihood and the lack of any other source of income.
Mohammad Salman, a hotel owner from Loni border here, said: “I started the hotel around one-and-half years back. There was no hassle initially. But since the time the Yogi (Adityanath)-led BJP government has come to power in UP, the police has been troubling us every now and then.”
“They come asking for the licence to sell meat, which I haven’t been able to get since the licences are not being issued by the government any longer,” he said.
Zubaid from Noida has been running a Biryani thela (stall) for the past 15 years. He had the same complaint that since the election of the BJP government in the state, there have been major troubles for those engaged in business relating to sale of any sort of meat.
“There are others who put up stalls of ‘chaat’ and other vegetarian items but they don’t have to face any problems. The police let them work peacefully but we are hounded for the licence,” he said.
Retired Judge A.P. Shah wondered whether there was lack of legal awareness among these people and that was why they were facing these issues.
Another resident from Noida, named Aala Nabi from a slum area, said: “On the very first day of the newly elected BJP government, policemen came asking for the licence.”
Speaking for around 60-70 others from the same slum area, he said: “Our licences which were valid till the year 2020 were suddenly cancelled. The police kept confusing us… sending us from one official to the other.”
Nabi broke down, expressing his sorrow of “not being treated like humans”.
“We took up the business of our ancestors because that is all we were able to handle. If the government can not let us carry on with it, it should give us other jobs. We are ready to do all sorts of work to earn the basic necessities for our kids,” he stressed.
He said the various demands made by the officials cost each one around Rs one lakh to one-and-half lakh but their businesses have not continued.
Jaggu, a non-muslim, from a slum in Noida Sector 8, said: “we have met all the demands raised by the officials but they are not letting us work.”
Those who transport meat in their tempos said “the policemen keep harrassing us on the way, asking for bribes” and the vehicle now carried a pungent smell of meat and could not be used for any other job.
Fateh Mohammad from Mewat said his licence to drive “could not be renewed because the new eligibility criteria to get it is a matric certificate holder”.
There were many other who came forward and narrated similar stories of hard struggle to earn a livelihood. Other business alternatives that included selling vegetarian food, they said, didn’t pay them as much as meat.
Saba Naqvi encouraged them to come together and fight legally. “I would also make an effort from my side to bring across your poor plight through my stories in newspapers,” she said.
Shah said the government had created a sad atmosphere for those coming from the most impoverished sections and they deserved support and awareness.
“The Prime Minister talks about ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ but unfortunately the reality is different,” he said.