"People were scared yesterday. We saw in the newspapers and on TV channels that if we open the shops, there will be heavy fines levied on us and our licences will be revoked and not renewed. What do you expect us to do after this? If our licences get revoked, we will be destroyed," said Krishan Kumar, a meat-seller at the INA market in South Delhi.
On Monday, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) Mayor Mukkesh Suryaan wrote a letter proposing a purported ban on selling meat during the ongoing Navratri festival.
For a day, after the letter came into the fore, some meat shops in south Delhi shut down. On Wednesday, 6 April, they resumed business, after most of them remained shut on Tuesday – an unusual phenomenon in the hustling lanes of the INA market.
There was uncertainty, anxiety, and fear in the air on Wednesday.
Suryaan on Monday wrote a letter to the commissioner seeking the closure of meat shops and ban on the sale of meat during Navratri till 11 April.
Later on Monday, Suryaan's statement to news agency ANI made it to the front pages of the Delhi newspapers on Wednesday in which he said, "99% of households in Delhi don’t even eat garlic and onion, so we have decided that no meat shops will be open in South MCD, the decision will be implemented from tomorrow. Fines will be imposed on violators."
It is to be noted that an official order can only be passed by the Commissioner, not the Mayor.
Ripple Effect Across Sections of Meat Industry
As the news spread across the national capital, it had a ripple effect on various sections of the meat industry.
"Mangalwaar ko hum waise bhi band rakhte hain, (We are shut on Tuesdays anyway)," said a few vendors we initially spoke to at the INA market. Some shops, however, shut on Tuesday out of fear of action by the authorities.
As the news of 'meat ban' became the topic of prime-time debates and morning newspaper headlines, not just the sale of meat but also the footfall of customers got affected across meat markets in south Delhi.
"Some shops are closed on Tuesday officially and there is not as much work during Navratri either, but most of us shut down out of fear," Kumar said.
On Wednesday, the vendors decided to resume business rather reluctantly, after they learnt from the morning newspaper that there has been no official order from the MCD for meat shops to shut till 11 April.
However, the fear of such an order actually being issued still looms over and has made meat vendors cautious.
"We opened shops today only after the papers reported that we can run business until official orders," said Kumar as he showed a newspaper article in a Hindi daily.
'Meat Ban' News Adding to Already Reduced Footfall During Navratri, Ramzan
Most vendors expressed concern over the footfall of customers.
"If the media shows over and over again that the market is closed, the footfall is expected to be affected. Generally, I earn Rs 2,000-3,000 per day and five-six labourers work here. But the work has reduced in the past two days, they have nothing much to do. There is Navratri being celebrated already, and the media reports have only made the footfall worse," said Naser Ahmad, who has been selling meat at the INA market for over 20 years.
"Some media people came and shot visuals of only those shops that were shut, it affected business a lot," he said, visibly upset with the "exaggeration by TV channels".
Taby Ray, a vendor at CR Park's fish market had similar concerns. Ray, who has been selling fish at the market since 2005, explained how even the wholesalers from whom he purchases his stock at Ghazipur Mandi have been extremely cautious of stocking up.
"The footfall of customers has definitely been affected because of this news. The wholesalers now fear that Delhi vendors won't buy as much either. It's summer, there is Navratri being celebrated, and there are rozas being observed. So, the consumption of meat has gone down. However, since yesterday, the footfall has been affected more than it usually is during the festival season," he said.
"There are at least 12-15 customers who buy from each shop here, but there has been no sale today. Even the ones coming aren't happy with the quality of meat as not much is being stocked by the wholesalers. There is no variety being brought by the wholesalers that the customers seek," Ray added.
'Same Expenditure, But Negligible Income'
Most vendors at the INA market are fearing severe losses if a ban till 11 April is officially imposed.
"If you declare something like this overnight, people will lose lakhs of rupees. If the shops are closed even for two days, the chicken and mutton in stock will rot, who will pay for that?" Kumar asked.
"There are hundreds of labourers working here at the INA market. How will they sustain themselves if the shops are shut?" said Sajid, a labourer who works for several shops in the market for the last 15 years.
Most of the vendors he works for are finding it more difficult to pay him on a daily basis because of reduced requirements and footfall.
Ray also voiced concerns over the expenditure and having to sustain the daily costs of the labourers working for him.
"There are 20 shops in this (CR Park) market and at least 80 families that are dependent on it. There are three labourers who work in my shop whose families depend on them, my own family depends on me. The shops are rented, we will have to face a lot of losses if the shops are shut. We faced severe loses when the shops were shut during COVID-19 too. We keep surplus stock for the next day, but if they decide to shut shops overnight, we will face severe loses because of that stock," Ray said.
"Meat shops have a lot of maintenance costs. The expenditure is the same, we are still having to pay the same amount to the labourers. The sale is already about 40-50% lesser during Navratri. If the sale keeps getting affected like this, we will face severe loses," Ray added.
'Never Faced a Situation Like This'
Vendors at the INA market said that never has any government or authority imposed a ban on the sale of meat in the past.
"I have been working here for the past 40 years, this market has never been never shut for a day," said Kumar.
"There are a lot of embassies in this area, so 50-60% customers are foreigners. Even Hindus come to buy meat, there is nothing to staunchly suggest that no Hindus eat meat during these days," he added.
A 70-year-old vendor at the INA market, who wished to remain anonymous said that the issue was being exaggerated ahead of the MCD elections.
"All this is being done to create unnecessary issues for MCD elections. Meat is being sold across the country during Hindu festivals for decades, why has there not been a problem so far? Never has an order like this been issued in the past that I remember," he said.