Indian Hindu hardliners have been forcing meat sellers to shut shops in Gurgaon, a New Delhi suburb that is home to global outsourcing firms, saying that they must respect the feelings of majority Hindus celebrating the nine-day Navaratri festival.
The drive against the mostly Muslim shopkeepers in Gurgaon during the Navaratri festival is the highest-profile campaign since Hindu vigilantes targeted people engaged in the slaughter of cows, considered sacred by Hindus.
With a national election due by May next year, some states ruled by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party have drawn accusations that they are not doing enough to curb the activities of Hindu hardliners.
One shopkeeper referred to the 1947 division of British India into the independent India and Pakistan.
“This is the first time since partition that we have been asked to close shops for this long a period,” said Sajid Qureshi, whose family has been selling meat for decades.
Men are roaming around on motorbikes and surveying areas to check for shops selling meat, said Rajeev Mittal, head of Sanyukt Hindu Sangarsh Samiti, an umbrella organization of 22 Hindu groups.
“Goats, cows are cut and hung up for all to see by the road. So we don’t want people who are fasting during the Navratri to see this,” said Mittal, who was wearing a bindi (red mark) on his forehead and a saffron shawl around his neck.
Police on Wednesday detained six people in the region after confrontation that turned violent when Hindu groups allegedly forced a meat shop owner to close.
“Anyone found forcibly closing meat shops will be dealt with sternly. The municipal corporation will do its enforcement on shops found running without a license,” Gurgaon Deputy Commissioner Vinay Pratap Singh said.
Qureshi, who was sitting with his friends outside a closed meat shop near a mosque, said that they had agreed to the demands of the Hindu groups, as they wanted to avoid confrontations.
Four other meat retailers told reporters that they were suffering heavy losses, but were scared to keep their shops open.
It looked unlikely that they would be allowed to reopen for another week, they added.
Hindu groups said that they are asking meat shop owners with proper licenses to close only during the nine-day period, but want shops without licenses to be permanently shut down.
There are 95 licensed meat shops in the region, but there could be up to 60 without licenses, Gurugram Municipal Corporation Medical Officer Ashish Singla said.
Gurgaon, about 30km south of New Delhi, is home to industrial plants, including those of top automaker Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, and many global outsourcing firms.
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