Why Hindutva Outfits Are Calling for a Boycott of Halal Products

By calling for a boycott of Halal, Hindutva outfits are attacking Muslim livelihoods and pitting Sikhs against them

Updated
India
5 min read
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Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the migrant labour crisis caused due to the lockdown, a curious hashtag was trending on social media - #BoycottHalalProducts. This is a campaign calling for the boycott of goods that have “Halal” certification. Halal certification is given to products/ingredients that are not prohibited for Muslims.

Most of the handles tweeting with this hashtag were pro-Hindutva, including some followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The “Boycott Halal” campaign has the official backing of at least two Hindutva organisations - Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Jagruti. At least one leader from the BJP - MLA from Gosha Mahal T Raja Singh in Telangana is also supporting the campaign.

Singh used the #BoycottHalalProducts while quote tweeting a video of Sanatan Sanstha’s National Spokesperson Chetan Rajhans, speaking for the boycott of such products.

Hindu Jagruti’s National Spokesperson Ramesh Shinde linked the campaign to the recent arrest of the owner of Jain Bakrey in Tamil Nadu for advertising that it has “no Muslim staff”.

Sudarshan News TV channel also ran a programme calling for the boycott of Halal products.

Now, the question is what is the debate surrounding Halal products and why are Hindutva outfits up in arms against them?

What is Halal?

One mistake that is often made is that Halal is seen merely as a method of slaughtering animals for meat. Yes, the method of slaughtering - slitting of the throad while reciting the Kalma -is an important part of Halal, but it is a much broader concept.

In the Holy Quran, Halal is used for anything that is “permissible” or “lawful” as opposed to Haraam or “forbidden”.

Therefore, even income made through illicit means is Haraam and that which is made through proper means is Halal.

The distinction between Halal and Haraam also has given rise to Halal certification of products and services. A good example of this is Islamic Banking, which doesn’t involve interest (considered Haraam). There’s also Halal tourism whereby the hotels do not serve alcohol and have the option of separate swimming pools for men and women.

But the most common usage of Halal certification is around food items.

Meat of pigs, blood, carrion (meat of an animal that is dead already) are all considered Haraam as are alcohol and most narcotic substances.

So Halal certification would mean that the product - for example a pharmaceutical good - doesn’t have alcohol or pig gelatin or anything else prohibited for Muslims.

Is Halal Prohibited for Other Communities?

The simple answer is no. Everything Halal is not prohibited for other communities, simply because it includes everything that is permissible in Islam - ranging from water to non-alcoholic drinks, fruits, vegetables, rice, wheat, cricket bats, air travel, automobiles, watches, footwear, clothes etc - basically anything that isn’t Haraam.

But every community has its own rules so what is permissible for one may be prohibited for another. For instance, onions and garlic may be prohibited for Jains but are allowed for most other communities.

Are Sikhs Against Halal?

According to Sikhs’ Rehat Maryada, Kutha or meat from an animal that is slaughtered slowly (like is prescribed for Muslims and Jews), is Bajar Kurehit or forbidden as is the meat which is slaughtered ritually.

The second category - meat slaughtered ritually - doesn’t include just Halal or Kosher meat but also meat of an animal that is slaughtered through by Hindus through Bali (sacrifice).

The concept of Halal per se is not against Sikhism.

The problems Sikhs face are from a consumer point of view - with the exception of Punjab and the Northeast, in most other states, much of the meat sold is Halal and there aren’t enough Jhatka options.

Even in Delhi, which has a sizable Sikh population, a majority of restaurants are said to be serving Halal meat as do a majority of suppliers.

A Sikh restaurant owner in South Delhi, whose restaurant serves Halal meat, gives a detailed explanation of the economics behind his choice.

“I’m a businessman. I work with two principles - demand and supply. As far as supply is concerned, most of the suppliers give Halal but it is not as if there are no mechanised or Jhatka suppliers. Bigger issue is demand,” he said.

Explaining the demand side of things the restauranter said, “I get three types of customers. A majority don’t care about Halal or Jhatkha. These include many meat eaters as well as vegetarians. But a sizable minority - say 30 percent - want Halal. This may be local Muslims or foreign tourists from Muslim countries. Then at most 1 percent specifically ask for Jhatka. So what do I do? Doesn’t it make more economic sense for me to get a Halal certificate?”

Taranjeet Singh, who is in the meat business selling only Jhatka, says that the economics of a Jhatka enterprise depends a lot on location.

“If you are in say Punjab, Chandigarh or West Delhi, where Sikh population is high, then Jhatka business is viable. But in other areas I admit, there are problems,” he said.

See you must understand that meat consumption is higher among Muslims. Many Hindus don’t eat meat. And Sikhs are small in number except for some areas
Taranjeet Singh, Jhatka meat trader

The Delhi restaurant owner, said that even within Sikhs, it is not easy to create a ‘Jhatka only’ market.

“Many in my family have only Jhatka. But now in the younger generation, many are not as disciplined in terms of practices and they do like going to restaurants like Karim’s which are clearly Halal,” the restaurant owner said.

He further asserted that many Sikhs who become Amritdhari reduce their meat intake or completely turn vegetarian.

“So we (Sikhs) are already a small community. And even within that some become vegetarian and some are not particular about Jhatka. So economically, it isn’t easy to create a ‘Jhatka only’ clientele,” he said.

Hindutva Outfits’ Anti-Halal Campaign

However, Hindutva outfits’ anti-Halal campaign is very different from the issues Sikh consumers and businessmen are facing.

According to Sanatan Prabhat, a pro-Hindutva group of periodicals, Halal certification amounts to “economic Jihad” and it is a means to wards “Islamisation of India”.

The “Boycott Halal Products” campaign therefore seems to be part of a larger Islamophobic campaign. It serves four political purposes.

  • It creates space for a larger economic boycott of Muslims and and attack on the livelihood of Muslims.
  • It maligns legitimate Muslim meat businesses by linking it with terror, through the wrongly used label of “Jihad”.
  • Another aspect of this campaign is pitting the Dalit Khatik community (traditionally associated with the sale of meat, against Muslims. Hindutva outfits have been trying to woo Khatiks for some time now by giving a communal colour to the economic competition with Muslim butchers.
  • Fourth, it is an attempt to pit one minority community (Sikhs) against the other (Muslims).

Fortunately, at least the last aspect isn’t getting much traction, due to a lukewarm response from the Sikh community.

“Why should there by a boycott of Halal? People who want to eat or sell Halal meat have the right to do that. I don’t eat or sell it but I will never support such a boycott,” Taranjeet Singh said.

A few Sikhs also tweeted in opposition to the #BoycottHalalProducts hashtag.

What is happening in the entire “Boycott Halal” campaign is an attack on the livelihood of Muslims as well as the invisibilisation of the Sikh community’s concerns from the debate.

The solution lies in a few simple steps that will address the consumer issues involved without any communalisation:

  • Creation of a Sikh certification authority that promotes meat that is neither slaughtered slowly nor accompanied by any religious invocation, be it by Hindus or Muslims.
  • Any attempt to promote an economic boycott of any community needs to be handled strictly by law enforcement agencies.
  • Government run guest houses and canteens as well as big brands should ideally have both Halal and Jhatka options.
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