Hindu tradition of sacred cows threatens thriving India meat industry

Uttar Pradesh’s new leaders promise more meat factories will be shut in the coming days, and they say the blow to the economy is less important than the principle of protecting the cow.

NARAHARA, India — In recent years, as demand for cheap protein raged in China and the Persian Gulf countries, India quietly became the world’s largest exporter of meat, chiefly flash-frozen water buffalo, which approached $5 billion in exports in 2015.

Slaughterhouses proliferated in the west of Uttar Pradesh, and the surrounding villages underwent an economic transformation. Children raised on plain roti began to eat lentils twice a day.

But that spurt of prosperity came under threat last week, when a new Hindu-right government in the state, led by fiery cleric Yogi Adityanath, began shutting down parts of the Muslim-dominated buffalo-meat industry. Hindu activists say the industry conceals the illegal slaughter of cows, which are sacred to Hindus.

Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing party has long balanced its commitment to export-driven development against its embrace of right-wing Hindu causes, it has rarely made such a stark choice between them. The state’s new leaders promise more meat factories will be shut in the coming days, and they say the blow to the economy is less important than the principle of protecting the cow.

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“The government should do it on moral grounds,” said Karunesh Nandan Garg, 57, president of the Meerut division of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He cited the example of prostitution in Thailand, which is largely tolerated by the authorities and “a major revenue producer” there. “But is that right? Money isn’t everything.”

Uttar Pradesh is India’s largest meat-producing state, with 41 of the country’s 75 licensed slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants, according to the Commerce Ministry. Scores more…

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