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How Anti-Halal Campaign Is Linked to Hindutva Outreach to a Key Dalit Caste

Messages are being circulated on social media telling Hindus to "boycott Halal" and promote shops owned by Khatiks.

Updated
India
7 min read
How Anti-Halal Campaign Is Linked to Hindutva Outreach to a Key Dalit Caste
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A key element to the Hindutva campaign against Halal meat is the saffron outreach to the Dalit Khatik community that is traditionally associated with selling meat, especially pork.

A number of messages are doing the rounds on social media instructing Hindus to "boycott Halal" and promote shops owned by the Khatik community.

For instance, this post on Facebook instructs non-vegetarian Hindus to purchase meat only from "Hindu Khatik brothers" as it is a "question of existence".

(A post against Halal doing the rounds on social media)

(Image Courtesy: Facebook)

Then this post equates "Halal" with "Jehad" and calls for promoting Khatiks, described as "a Kshatriya tribe" here.

(A post against Halal doing the rounds on social media)

(Image Courtesy: Facebook)

However, this campaign is not just restricted to social media.

When the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) in 2021 was discussing a proposal to make it compulsory for restaurants to display whether they are serving Halal or Jhatka meat, the Leader of the House, BJP's Narendra Chawla, had said that the move would provide increased employment opportunities to Khatiks involved in the slaughter of animals through Jhatka method.

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While efforts to use the 'Halal vs Jhatka' issue to pit Sikhs against Muslims haven't quite succeeded in the past, there is some traction for the anti-Halal campaign among Khatiks.

For instance, a Varanasi-based organisation called the Akhil Bharatiya Khatik Samaj has called for the boycott of all Halal products.

However, Khatiks involved in meat trade are stuck in a peculiar position due to the different ban demands coming from the Hindutva side.

On one hand, among Khatiks, there is a strong narrative against Halal and what they perceive as Muslim domination in the meat industry.

On the other hand, there is a fear of increasing restrictions on the meat industry.

This story will look at three aspects:

  • Hindutva attempts to co-opt the Khatik community

  • The opposition to Halal among Khatiks and competition with Muslims in the meat trade

  • The reaction to meat ban demands

Hindutva Co-Option of Khatiks Part One - Repackaging Khatik Identity

The Khatik community lies at the core of a very central ideological exercise of the Sangh Parivar – of creating a narrative that untouchability and existence of Dalits was not part of Hinduism but emerged as a reaction to Muslim invasions.

A few months after the Narendra Modi-led NDA's victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat released three books written by BJP spokesperson Dr Bizay Sonkar Shastri: Hindu Charmakar Jati, Hindu Khatik Jati, and Hindu Valmiki Jati on three key Dalit communities – Jatavs, Khatiks, and Valmikis.

It is important to note that the prefix "Hindu" is attached to all the three communities in the books, a clear counter to Ambedkarite politics that squarely puts Dalit identity in opposition to Hinduism.

Incidentally, at the book launch, Bhagwat lashed out at what he called "quota politics" – in what seemed to be targeted at the politics of social justice parties.

In the foreword to Bizay Sonkar Shastri's books, Suresh 'Bhaiyyaji' Joshi, then Number Two in the Sangh, wrote that "untouchables and Dalits emerged only after Islamic atrocities".

In his book, Shastri, himself a Khatik, writes that Khatiks were originally Brahmins involved in bali or the ritual slaughter of animals. The book claims that 'Khattik Brahmins' were at the forefront of resisting the invasions of Alexander and Taimur.

(RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat released Bizay Sonkar Shastri's books)

Dr Bizay Sonkar Shastri Facebook Page

He further claims that during Mughal times, Khatiks, who mostly resided near temples, began tying pigs outside their homes "to protect their women from Mughals" and that they began selling pig meat in response to "cow slaughter by Mughals".

It is further claimed that while Khatiks managed to save temples through these methods, they fell in the Hindu social hierarchy due to their involvement in rearing pigs.

"They started rearing pigs and selling pig meat for a living and that's how a valiant Brahmin community among Hindus became categorised as Dalits," the book says, adding that "they were often considered Kshatriyas due to their bravery".

There aren't enough historical records to substantiate these claims. Scholars like Kancha Ilaiah have outrightly dismissed any suggestion that untouchability had anything to do with Mughal or British rule, arguing that these were nothing but attempts to deny that the roots of untouchability lay in ancient Hindu texts.

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Hindutva Co-Option of Khatiks Part Two - Communal Mobilisation

The Hindutva narrative of "Khatiks protecting Hindus" is not restricted to the Mughal period. It is also claimed that during the communal violence following Mohammad Ali Jinnah's call for 'Direct Action Day' in 1946, Khatiks massacred Muslims in Bengal, forcing the province's Muslim League government to back down.

This was further emphasised in the context of the communal violence following the Babri Masjid demolition.

The 1992 violence in Kanpur city saw 69 deaths, a majority of them Muslims. According to sociologist Maren Bellwinkel-Schempp's work on the Khatiks of Kanpur:

"A striking aspect of the 1992 riots was the strong involvement of a section of Khatiks under the leadership of 'Kala Bachcha'.

Paul Brass also writes about Kala Bachcha in his seminal work Theft of an Idol: Text and Context in the Representation of Collective Violence.

Kala Bachcha was a title given to a local influential Khatik named Munna Sonkar from Kanpur's Babupurwa area. Sonkar owned over 200 pigs and a large multi-storey building in the area. He eventually became a municipal corporator, getting elected as an Independent and moving first to the Congress and then the BJP.

In the chapter 'Kala Bachcha: Potrait of a BJP Hero,' Brass cites several Hindu and Muslim respondents who alleged Kala Bachcha's involvement in the killing of Muslims.

Following the violence, Kala Bachcha emerged as a hero among the Hindu right wing for "protecting Hindus".

He was killed in a crude bomb attack in 1994.

His son Rahul Bachcha Sonkar is currently the BJP MLA from Bilhaur, the seat Kala Bachcha lost by 682 votes in 1993.

Kala Bachcha's son Rahul Bachcha Sonkar is a BJP MLA now.

(Rahul Bacha Sonkar Facebook Page)

Khatiks and the Anti-Halal Campaign

As mentioned earlier, promoting Khatik businesses is a key element to the anti-Halal campaign by Hindutva organisations.

In states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, Hindutva outfits are also said to have provided funds to Khatiks to set up meat businesses to compete with Muslim meat traders.

(A post by Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Yuva Morcha claiming to help Khatiks set up a Jhatka meat shop in Surat)

(Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Yuva Morcha)

However, in the Hindutva outreach among Khatiks, the opposition to Halal isn't just being cited as an economic factor, but one that is integral to Khatik identity.

The narrative being spread by Hindutva outfits among Khatiks is that just as the community took to rearing pigs as a reaction to "cow slaughter by Mughals" which in turn led to them losing their caste status, the dominance of Halal is leading to their economic subjugation.

The "cruelty" argument used by anti-Halal campaigners is seldom used in the context of Khatiks.

On the contrary, some Khatik meat traders claim that non-Halal meat is tastier as preserving the blood makes the meat juicier, though some say it also becomes prone to getting spoilt faster.

In some parts of India, Khatiks and other Dalits also make preparations out of the blood of the slaughtered animal.

Khatiks involved in the anti-Halal campaign also claim that the perception of blood being "impure" is the result of "propaganda spread by the Halal lobby".

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However, some also admit that the association with pig rearing has placed limitations on their business.

Kamlesh (name changed), a meat-seller from the Sonkar or Khatik community in Malka Ganj area in North Delhi, says that there are limitations to the demand for pig meat.

"People feel that pigs are unclean and they eat garbage and faeces. As a result, we don't get many rich customers. It is mostly locals from the area and some students. High-end customers, including big restaurants, procure from high-end pork suppliers," he says.

Ban a Double-Edged Sword

Due to Hindutva propaganda and also economic competition, there is a perception among a section of Khatik meat traders that there is a big "lobby" supporting Halal butchers. Therefore, many of them are not opposed to some restrictions on Halal, as being pushed by Hindutva outfits.

However, they are also afraid that Hindutva overzealousness on the matter may be counter-productive and lead to meat bans in several places.

For instance, the ban on the sale of meat within a 10 sq km radius of Lord Krishna's birthplace in Mathura did lead to loss of livelihood among Khatik butchers.

"Such restrictions are not good. Sellers should be given compensation (in case of such bans) but that doesn't happen," Kamlesh said.

Interestingly, Sachin Khatik, president of the Sangeet Som Sena, was recently booked for vandalising a veg biryani cart belonging to a Muslim in the Sardhana-Binauli road in western Uttar Pradesh's Meerut district.

Khatik, a BJP supporter and a close aide of recently defeated BJP MLA Sangeet Som, identifies himself as a "Dhankar Rajput," a term often used by Khatiks.

Kamlesh is afraid of anti-meat campaigns, whether on a religious pretext or environmental.

He is also ambivalent on the Navratri ban proposed by the mayor in South Delhi.

"It's not in our area so it doesn't matter to me. It is Navratri so I understand but generally in my opinion such bans are bad for business. As it is, the business doesn't pay much and costs are only increasing," he said.

On being asked if he has received any help from Hindutva outfits, Kamlesh said that he hasn't but he knows of people in other states who have, but even that isn't sufficient.

"Help should be given at the government level," he said.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Published: 
Edited By :Ahamad Fuwad
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