The number of Indians eating beef and buffalo meat went up from 7.51 crore in 1999-2000 to 8.35 crore in 2011-12 while the total household consumption of beef/buffalo meat went down from 4.44 crore kg per month to 3.67 crore kg in the same time period.
These findings come from National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data. Three rounds of the Household Consumption Expenditure survey of NSSO (51, 55 and 68), spanning a decade — including the latest one from 2011-12 — were analysed by The Hindu in collaboration with India Datalabs, based at the Observer Research Foundation.
Of late, “beef” and even buffalo meat consumption has been at the centre of a raging political controversy in India. Buffalo meat traders in Lucknow argue that due to the increase in the number of export factories, the supply to the common domestic market has dropped over the years.
As per NSSO data, in U.P., the total quantity of buffalo meat consumed per month decreased from 1.25 crore kg in 1999-2000 to 90.5 lakh kg in 2011-12.
However, a retailer in Lucknow, who preferred anonymity, said that the consumption of buffalo meat was often not reflected in the figures. “Lucknow produces two to three tonnes of kababs daily. This demand cannot be satisfied with the supply of goat meat. Buffalo meat is used to fill the shortage. It is common.”
Consumption pattern In Haryana, Mohammad Shakir, a meat-seller in the Jama Masjid area — the hub of buffalo meat in Gurugram — tells a different story. He says that business was booming for a decade till 2010, which coincides with the survey duration. But, he attributed the decrease in demand for buffalo meat over the past four-five years to the mushrooming of chicken shops. Consumption patterns vary across religions, data show. In 2011-12, 42 per cent of Indian Muslims reported having eaten beef/buffalo meat in the month preceding the survey compared to 26.5 per cent Christians and 1.4 per cent Hindus.
Our analysis shows that the number of Hindus eating beef/buffalo meat has been declining — 1.89 crore Hindus in 1999-2000 to 1.25 crore in 2011-12 — whereas among Muslims, the practice has been increasing — 4.8 crore Muslims to 6.34 crore in the same duration.
Let’s compare the absolute values. In 1999-2000, for every five Muslims who would eat beef/buffalo meat, there were two Hindus who reported eating the meat as well. In 2011-12, the ratio declined: one Hindu for every five Muslims.
When this was pointed out to Chaudhary Ahleh Umar Qureshi, the U.P. secretary of the All India Jamiatul Quresh — the frontal body of the Quresh community, who have traditionally been engaged as butchers — he seemed unconvinced. According to him, “60-70 per cent” of those who eat buffalo meat — Lucknow’s famous kababs, the most sought after item — in the city’s well-known joints were Hindus. However, since they do not consume it at home, it goes unrecorded.
NSSO data is self-reported and due to religious stigma, people might be under-reporting consumption details. The Hindu spoke to some Hindus in U.P., mostly upper caste, who ate buffalo meat in restaurants but hid the fact from their families or friends. They said they were not allowed to cook buffalo meat at home.
Overall, Uttar Pradesh, the State where a Muslim man was lynched last year when suspected of storing “beef” at his home, has the highest number of Muslims eating buffalo meat — 1.73 crore — followed by West Bengal (1.5 crore) and Assam (57 lakh). In percentage terms, the Muslim beef/buffalo eating population is highest in Meghalaya (94 per cent) followed by Lakshadweep (78 per cent) and Sikkim (72 per cent). U.P. and Maharashtra have this figure around 47 per cent.
Further, according to data, there is regional variation in consumption of buffalo/beef among Hindus. Southern States have the maximum number of Hindus eating beef/buffalo meat — the highest in A.P. (32.8 lakh) followed by Tamil Nadu (31.4 lakh), Kerala (15.5 lakh) and Karnataka (9 lakh).
In all the States belonging to the Hindi heartland, less than one per cent of Hindus eat beef/buffalo meat.
But in Assam, Punjab, and Bihar, beef/buffalo meat-eating Hindu population increased by more than 100 per cent — more than double, that means — from 1999-2000 to 2011-12. Ditto with Haryana — buffalo-meat eating Hindus increased from 25,160 to 56,174 — though it is still less than one per cent of the Hindu population in the State.
Cattle/cow slaughter laws vary across the country. Cow slaughter is banned both in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
(With inputs from Omar Rashid in Lucknow and Ashok Kumar in Gurugram)