NEW DELHI – A new ban imposed by India's government on the sale of cows and buffaloes for slaughter to protect animals considered holy by many Hindus is drawing widespread protests from state governments and animal-related industries.
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Many state governments criticized the ban as a blow to beef and leather exports that will leave hundreds of thousands jobless and deprive millions of Christians, Muslims and poor Hindus of a cheap source of protein.
The rules, which took effect Friday, require that cattle traders pledge that any cows or buffalos sold are not intended for slaughter.
At least one state government is planning a challenge in court. Some have said the ban infringes on states' commercial autonomy and are calling for a nationwide protest.
Others say the ban will hurt farmers who will be forced to continue feeding aged animals, and that millions of unproductive cattle will be turned out on the streets.
The new rules also propose the setting up of a vast animal monitoring bureaucracy, including animal inspectors and veterinarians, to ensure the rules are followed. Traditionally, cattle fairs and markets allow the sale of animals headed to abattoirs to provide raw materials used in dozens of industries, including leather making, soap and fertilizer.
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The state governments have appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to repeal the order, which they say was issued without consultations with them. Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has been pushing a Hindu nationalist agenda since it came to power in 2014.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the top elected official in southern Kerala state, wrote to Modi on Sunday describing the restrictions as a "drastic move" that would have "far-reaching consequences and would be detrimental to democracy."
He said the move amounts to "an intrusion into the rights of the states" in India's federal structure and violates the principles of the Indian Constitution.
The government of West Bengal state also protested the move, saying the Modi government cannot make such decisions unilaterally.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the state would not accept the imposition of such restrictions on its commercial authority. She described it as a step by the Modi government to "destroy the federal structure of the country."
"We won't accept the decision. It is unconstitutional. We will challenge it legally," Banerjee told reporters Monday.
Hindus, who form 80 percent of India's 1.3 billion people, consider cows to be sacred, and for many eating beef is taboo. In many Indian states, the slaughtering of cows and selling of beef is either restricted or banned. India has the highest number of vegetarians in the world as a result of Hinduism's predominance, although not all Hindus are vegetarians.
While the eating of beef is not a crime in many states, slaughtering a cow carries a punishment of up to seven years in jail throughout the country. In Gujarat state, lawmakers have approved a bill increasing the punishment for killing a cow to life imprisonment.
Critics say the new rules, ostensibly to protect the way animals are treated and transported, are in keeping with demands of Hindu nationalists, who have long been pressing for a nationwide ban on the sale of beef. The past two years have also seen a rise in vigilante attacks on Muslims and lower caste Hindus involved in the cattle trade. Several deaths have occurred.
On Monday, police arrested seven people on suspicion of assaulting two Muslim men who were transporting meat in western Maharashtra state. The men were beaten and forced to chant Hindu slogans by a vigilante group on Sunday, police said.
Meanwhile, leather and meat industry groups said the ban could push them out of business.
Fauzan Alavi of the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association said beef exports, which had been growing rapidly, have already been affected. "Such a drastic move is bound to hit the industry," Alavi said Sunday.
The government "has handed a death certificate to us," said Ramesh K. Juneja of the Council of Leather Exports.