NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The Supreme Court suspended on Tuesday a government ban on the trade of cattle for slaughter, a boost for the multi-billion dollar beef and leather industries mostly run by members of the Muslim minority.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government in May decreed that markets could only trade cattle for agricultural purposes, such as ploughing and dairy production, on the grounds of stopping cruelty to animals.
The slaughter of cows, considered holy in Hinduism, was already banned in most parts of India, but Hindu hardliners and cow vigilante groups have been increasingly asserting themselves since Modi’s government came to power in 2014.
Muslims, who make up 14 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people, said the May government decree against the beef and leather industry employing millions of workers was aimed at marginalising them.
The Supreme Court, in issuing its decision, stressed the hardship that the ban on the trade of cattle for slaughter had imposed.
“The livelihood of people should not be affected by this,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar said in his ruling.
India’s meat and leather industries are worth more than $16 billion in annual sales.
After the decision, the government told the court it would modify and reissue its May order, Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha said.
The issue has become highly emotive with a wave of attacks on Muslims suspected of either storing meat or transporting cattle for slaughter. An estimated 28 people have been killed in cow-related violence since 2010.
Late last month, after months of silence on the violence, Modi condemned lynchings.
Media has reported at least two cases of attacks on Muslims since Modi spoke out.
Abdul Faheem Qureshi, the head of the Muslim All India Jamiatul Quresh Action Committee that supports meat sellers, welcomed the court decision.
“We have to now restore the confidence of cattle traders that they can resume their business. It’ a victory for us,” said Faheem Qureshi, who had lodged a petition with the Supreme Court against the government ban.
Additional reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel