A shoe-maker poses for a picture in an underground workshop in Agra, India, June 9, 2017. Picture taken June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton
By Tommy Wilkes and Mayank Bhardwaj
AGRA, India (Reuters) – In the backstreets of Agra’s Muslim quarter, where shoes have been made for centuries, small-scale manufacturers are firing workers and families cutting back on spending as a government crackdown on cattle slaughter ripples through the community.
The election of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) three years ago has emboldened right-wing Hindu groups to push harder for protection of the cow, an animal they consider sacred.
Authorities in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, started closing down unlicensed abattoirs in March, immediately hitting production and sales in the Muslim-dominated meat industry.
Last month Modi’s government also banned trading cattle for slaughter, including not just cows, whose killing was already outlawed in most states, but also buffalo, an animal used for meat and leather.
Now the squeeze is spreading to others in the Muslim minority and to lower-caste Hindus who cart cattle, labour in tanneries and make shoes, bags and belts – including for big name brands such as Zara and Clarks.
Frequent attacks by right-wing Hindus against workers they accuse of harming cattle have further rattled the industry.
Much of India’s meat and leather trade takes place in the informal economy, meaning the impact of the closing of illegal abattoirs and ban on trading for slaughter is hard to measure.
But cattle markets are reporting a big slowdown in trade and tanneries a shortage of hides.
Abdul Faheem Qureshi, a representative of India’s Muslim Qureshi community of butchers, said in Uttar Pradesh some markets trading 1,000 animals last year were now down to as few as 100.