Not kosher

Published November 26, 2023

THE Uttar Pradesh government’s recent decision to ban the sale of halal-certified products is the latest salvo fired in the Hindutva culture war at Indian Muslims. It is also likely that the BJP, which rules UP, is trying to beef up its Hindutva credentials before India goes to the polls next year through crude stunts like these. News reports quoted officials as saying that the halal certification of several products represents a “parallel system”, while a BJP youth wing member has gone a step ahead, filing a case alleging that sales of halal products were funding terrorist activities. This is the work of overactive imaginations. These efforts would be laughable had they not affected the fundamental rights of tens of millions of Indian Muslims. Yesterday it was about offering prayers in public and women’s right to wear hijab, today it is about halal food, and tomorrow the Hindutva state will use other cultural and religious symbols to further ostracise India’s Muslims.

A BJP spokesman has justified the halal ban by saying that “religion should not be brought into food”. If that is the case, why did India pass a law in 2011, which orders the labelling of packed food products as vegetarian or otherwise? Moreover, if religion and food should be kept separate, why do the majority of Indian states ban cow slaughter? Mixing religion and food is alright when it is done to protect the beliefs of India’s observant Hindus but is not kosher where Muslim dietary restrictions are concerned. This hypocrisy is untenable. Many non-Muslim countries allow halal labelling, though far-right actors have started attacking this freedom. Halal certification is basically an understanding between producers and Muslims consumers who wish to follow their dietary restrictions. No one is forcing other communities to consume halal food. But with the halal ban, the Sangh Parivar is only continuing its crusade to erase nearly 1,000 years of Muslim influence from public life.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2023

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