India's top court suspends ban on cattle slaughter

The Supreme Court upheld a decision by a lower court staying the ban imposed in May, which prohibited the sale and purchase of cows - an animal considered sacred for Hindus - for slaughter.

File photo from May 2017 showing Indian police removing members of the Revolutionary Students and Youth Front during a protest the ban on the sale of cows for slaughter in Chennai. India's top court on July 11, 2017 stayed a nationwide ban imposed by the government on the sale of cattle for slaughter that had provoked outcry in many states.
Arun Sankar/AFP Photo
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The Supreme Court in India suspended a government ban on the trade of cattle for slaughter on Tuesday, a boost for the multi-billion dollar beef and leather industries mostly run by members of the Muslim minority.

Prime minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government in May decreed that markets could only trade cattle for agricultural purposes, such as ploughing and dairy production, on the grounds of stopping cruelty to animals.

The ruling had sparked protests against what many saw as an overreach by the Hindu-right Bharatiya Janata Party, and many states where cow slaughter was legal vowed to fight the decree.

Considered holy in Hinduism, the slaughter of cows was already banned in most parts of India. But Hindu hardliners and cow vigilante groups have been increasingly asserting themselves since Mr Modi's government came to power in 2014.

Muslims, who make up 14 per cent of India's 1.3 billion people, said the government decree against the beef and leather industry employing millions of workers was aimed at marginalising them.

The Supreme Court, in issuing its decision, stressed the hardship that the ban on the trade of cattle for slaughter had imposed.

"The livelihood of people should not be affected by this," Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar said in his ruling.

India's meat and leather industries are worth more than US$16 billion (Dh58.77bn) in annual sales.

After the decision, the government told the court it would modify and reissue its May order.

Mr Modi's BJP pledged to impose a countrywide ban on the slaughter of cows ahead of the 2014 national elections, but the federal government failed to persuade opposition parties to support such a law.

The issue has become highly emotive with a wave of attacks on Muslims suspected of either storing meat or transporting cattle for slaughter. An estimated 28 people have been killed in cow-related violence since 2010.

Late last month, after months of silence on the violence, Mr Modi condemned the lynchings.

Media has reported at least two cases of attacks on Muslims since he spoke out.

Abdul Faheem Qureshi, the head of the Muslim All India Jamiatul Quresh Action Committee that supports meat sellers, welcomed the court decision.

"We have to now restore the confidence of cattle traders that they can resume their business. It' a victory for us," said Faheem Qureshi, who had lodged a
petition with the Supreme Court against the government ban.

On Monday, a government-run laboratory in western India said it had developed portable "beef detection kits" that will allow police to quickly determine whether meat is that of an illegally slaughtered cow, an official said.

"We have been working on beef detection kits for the past eight months and these will be distributed to Maharashtra and Mumbai police in August," KY Kulkarni, director of the Maharashtra state government's Forensic Science Laboratories, said.

Mr Kulkarni said the new kits were based on the Elisa method, where colour changes of samples identify a substance. Police just need to pour a sample into the kit and it would change colour to identify whether it was bovine meat or not within 30 minutes.

At present it can take several days for a laboratory to identify the source of meat through traditional DNA tests, leaving cattle traders languishing in jail, often innocently, while the outcome of tests are awaited.