28 October 2016
An Indian soldier guards captured cattle at the India-Bangladesh border in West Bengal. Photo: Reuters
An Indian soldier guards captured cattle at the India-Bangladesh border in West Bengal. Photo: Reuters

Indian crackdown on cow smuggling starves Bangladesh of beef

India’s crackdown on cattle smuggling is having an economic impact on neighboring Bangladesh as well as the sizeable Muslim minority at home, Reuters reported.

The policy is seen as heavily influenced by the government’s Hindu nationalist ideology.

About two million head of cattle are smuggled into Bangladesh annually from India. The US$600 million-a-year trade has flourished over the past four decades and is considered legal by Dhaka.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which came to power with the help of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), wants to put an end to it.

Interior Minister Rajnath Singh traveled this spring to the frontier with Bangladesh, calling on India’s Border Security Force to halt cattle smuggling completely so that the “people of Bangladesh give up eating beef”, the news agency said, citing local media reports.

“Killing or smuggling a cow is equivalent to raping a Hindu girl or destroying a Hindu temple,” said Jishnu Basu, an RSS spokesman in West Bengal, which shares a 2,216-kilometer border with Bangladesh.

So far this year, BSF soldiers have seized 90,000 cattle and caught 400 Indian and Bangladeshi smugglers.

Bangladeshi traders who operate auctions to facilitate the sale of cattle to slaughter houses, beef processing units, tanneries and bone crushing factories estimate the industry contributed 3 percent to the country’s US$190 billion economy.

The hit to GDP from India’s policies is not yet known. But H.T. Imam, a political adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said there was “absolutely no doubt” that the beef trade and leather industry were suffering.

Syed Hasan Habib of Bengal Meat, Bangladesh’s top beef exporter, said it had to cut international orders by 75 percent. The company exports 125 tons of beef a year to Gulf countries.

He said the price of cows had gone up by 40 percent over the past six months because of India’s move, and they had been forced to close two processing units.

Habib plans to import cows from Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar to meet domestic demand, but he said Indian cows had better quality meat and raw hide.

Bangladesh Tanners Association president Shaheen Ahmed said 30 of 190 tanneries had suspended work due to lack of hides, and about 4,000 workers were jobless.

A senior official in India’s home ministry said Bangladesh should find new sources of beef because India would stick to its stance.

India is home to 300 million cattle and is the world’s largest beef exporter and fifth-biggest consumer.

But since Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which is closely linked to the RSS, came to power last year, the rhetoric on cow protection and the beef ban has increased.

Critics say tougher anti-beef laws discriminate against Muslims, Christians and lower-caste Hindus who rely on the cheap meat for protein. Butchers and cattle traders, many of them Muslim, say the push threatens thousands of jobs.

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Indian soldiers belonging to the Border Security Force walk across the open border with Bangladesh in West Bengal. Photo: Reuters

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