Several hundred butcheries and restaurants serving meat, including a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet, were forcibly closed down on Wednesday by Hindu nationalists in northern India’s Haryana state at the start of a religious festival.
Over 200 Shiv Sena activists demanded that all establishments selling meat in New Delhi’s satellite city of Gurugram remain shut the entire nine-days of the Navratra spring festival, when Hindu devotees fast and abstain from eating non-vegetarian foodstuff.
“We have served notices to hotels and eateries serving non-vegetarian food to keep their establishments shut during Navratra” said Ritu Raj spokesperson of the Sena that is a coalition partner of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Sena members marched through Gurugram’s crowded market places threating violence if places selling meat refused to close until Navratra ended on 4 April.
They said they had resorted to force only after their petitions to the local police to shut down these stores were ignored.
Several BJP MPs have publicly called upon Hindus – who make up over 82 per cent of India’s population - to produce four or more children each, to counter traditionally larger Muslim families. They also want to make the ancient language of Sanskrit compulsory.
During Navratra, dedicated to the Hindu warrior goddess Durga, millions of devotees fast and others eat specially prescribed vegetarian foods.
“We have not received any notification from the authorities on limiting operations during Navratra “ a KFC spokesperson said, adding that consumers were free to make their individual choices and decisions with regard to their dietary preferences.
The Shiv Sena’s crackdown on meat outlets follows the closure of hundreds of illegal abattoirs and beef and mutton shops in neighnouring Uttar Pradesh state and several other provinces ruled by BJP governments.
This suppression began last week after Modi appointed Hindu hardliner Yogi Adityanath as Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, following the BJP’s landslide victory in provincial elections earlier in the month.
Many of the closed abattoirs are owned by Muslims who constitute 18 per cent of the state’s population of 204 million, and have led to tens of thousands of people being rendered jobless.
It has also sparked meat shortages and disruption of profitable buffalo meat exports.
India is one of the world’s largest exporters of buffalo meat, having sold beef worth 3.22 billion Pounds last year.
The beef ban has also stoked fears of communal tensions with Muslims who dominate the meat industry countrywide and constitute 14 per cent of India’s population of 1.3 billion.
The beef produced in India comes from buffalo meat, and not cows whom Hindus consider holy and whose slaughter is legally banned.
The BJP, however, has defended its actions, saying it was part of the party’s election manifesto in the state elections.