The Never-ending Halal Controversy

As recent as the last Sunday, Halal hotels that primarily cater to the religious and dietary needs of observant Muslims were at the centre of a raging political controversy in Kerala.

After the painful ouster from the T20 world cup in group stage, the Indian cricket fans were busy celebrating the Indian team’s victory over New Zealand in a T-20 series. India defeated the Kiwis 3-0 to avenge the world cup embarassment to some extent. However, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) fell pray to a rather serious controversy on several social media platforms on Monday. It all started when BCCI circulated their new order to adhere to a stringent food regimen for the Indian cricket team. Netizens were outraged when reports surfaced that the Indian players had been ordered to adhere to this rather restricted diet plan.

The Halal controversy

They will be forbidden to consume pig or beef in any manner. Some fans were outraged over the fact that the players are only permitted to eat ‘halal’ meat and nothing else.

The ‘Halal’ method involves cutting the animal and allowing it to bleed out slowly, whereas the ‘Jhatka’ approach involves slaughtering the animal all at once.

In Hinduism and Sikhism, eating Halal meat is forbidden, but Muslims eat only Halal meat and abstain from eating any other type of meat.

According to Sports Tak, the team has been ordered not to consume pork and that “If anyone wants to have meat then it should be only in halal form, players can’t eat any other form of meat whatsoever.”

The BCCI maintains that this is to keep players fit and healthy for upcoming International Cricket Council (ICC) events and key series.

However, there has been an uproar regarding the new diet plan of the Indian cricket team. BCCI is being criticized on social media for forcing the Indian cricketers to eat only ‘Halal’ meat.

A top Twitter trend in India on Tuesday was #BCCI_Promotes_Halal, under which the Indian Cricket Board was being pulled up by the fans for its decision.

However, this is not the first time that there has been a controversy in India over the ‘Halal’ food in recent times.

Movement in Kerala

As recent as the last Sunday, Halal hotels that primarily cater to the religious and dietary needs of observant Muslims were at the centre of a raging political controversy in Kerala.

The dispute erupted after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) State president K. Surendran flagged the Travancore Devaswom Board’s purchase of ‘halal-certified’ jaggery to make prasadam at the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple.

He alleged that ‘halal’ hotels in the State were fronts for radical Islamists. He accused fundamentalists of incrementally imposing a ‘halal’ culture in the State.

On Sunday, BJP State general secretary P. Sudhir equated ‘halal’ to a ‘social evil’ such as ‘triple talaq’. The BJP demanded that the State Government ban ‘halal’ boards in front of hotels.

What is Halal?

Halal is Arabic for permissible. Halal food is that which adheres to Islamic law, as defined in the Koran.

The Islamic form of slaughtering animals or poultry, dhabiha, involves killing through a cut to the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe.

Animals must be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter and all blood is drained from the carcass. During the process, a Muslim will recite a dedication, know as tasmiya or shahada.

McDonald’s and Zomato backlash

Two years back, the multinational food chain McDonald’s faced heat in India for declaring that they sell only Halal meat foods. The controversy started over the declaration of the food chain that they are selling only Islamic Halal certified foods in India. This statement created an uproar among Hindus. It led to a top trending hashtag on Twitter which read- #BoycottMcDonalds.

The Twitter storm against McDonald’s was similar to Zomato’s ‘Halal’ controversy. Zomato India received massive praise on social media initially, when it gave a befitting reply to a customer, who cancelled his order because the delivery guy who was assigned for his food delivery was a “non-Hindu”. Zomato India said that food does not have a religion. It is a religion.

However, Zomato later received a huge backlash for being fine with customers’ specific request for halal meat. Several users shared posts on Twitter wherein Zomato had apologised to customers for serving non-halal food. Many of these users were giving 1 rating to the app on Google Play and Apple App Store. Some also started trends like #BoycottZomato.

Responding to the criticism, the company had issued a lengthy statement wherein it defended the Halal tag. “The halal tag on Zomato is a result of restaurants seeking that distinction — not as an aggregator. Restaurants (whether a Muslim establishment or otherwise) serving meat specifically obtain halal certification by an all-India body. Again, we play no role in this categorisation as we only seek proof of authenticity when a restaurant claims halal food. FSSAI licence is mandatory. Halal certification is voluntary,” said the company in its statement.

Though this outrage by the right wing over food habits, especially the Halal meat, is not new.

The boycott Halal campaign

Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the migrant labour crisis caused due to the lockdown, a curious hashtag was trending on social media – #BoycottHalalProducts.

According to The Quint’s report, most the handles tweeting with this hashtag were pro-Hindutva, including some followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The “Boycott Halal” campaign had the official backing of at least two Hindutva organisations – Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Jagruti. At least one leader from the BJP – MLA from Gosha Mahal T Raja Singh in Telangana was also supporting the campaign.

In July this year, on the complaint of right wing group Bajrang Dal, the Uttarakhand police registered an FIR charging authorities of a Dehradun boarding school with “promoting enmity” between groups over a tender seeking halal meat for its mess.

The truth behind Halal supremacy

Though the Halal meat controversy is not specifically over the lack of choices because of restaurants offering Halal meat. It is more of a part of larger narrative to target the Indian Muslims. The Hindutva groups blame that the Muslim community is building a parallel economy by imposing Halal meat. However, the fact of the matter is, very few Hindus and Sikhs, who are culturally against the Halal meat, ask in the restaurants whether they are being served a Halal or Jhatka meat. Many non-vegetarian Hindus, and trust me I know many around me, do not even care if the meat they are consuming is Halal or Jhatka.

This does not mean that those who do not want to consume Halal meat, should be forced to eat it. They should have an option to eat Jhatka meat if they wish to. However, the economic model of meat business is too complex.

The Quint’s report in 2020 rightly talked about the demand and supply factor of the meat industry.

A Sikh restaurant owner in South Delhi, whose restaurant serves Halal meat, gave a detailed explanation to The Quint of the economics behind his choice.

“I’m a businessman. I work with two principles – demand and supply. As far as supply is concerned, most of the suppliers give Halal but it is not as if there are no mechanised or Jhatka suppliers. Bigger issue is demand,” he said.

Explaining the demand side of things the restauranter said, “I get three types of customers. A majority don’t care about Halal or Jhatkha. These include many meat eaters as well as vegetarians. But a sizable minority – say 30 percent – want Halal. This may be local Muslims or foreign tourists from Muslim countries. Then at most 1 percent specifically ask for Jhatka. So what do I do? Doesn’t it make more economic sense for me to get a Halal certificate?”

On the front of the BCCI controversy, a senior BCCI official told ABP News: “No such circular has been issued by the board. Consuming vegetarian or non-vegetarian food, or halal or non-halal meat is completely a player’s own choice. The board has never issued any instructions on this.”

This should end the controversy here. But as seen in the past, the issue of Halal meat will keep coming up, as a section of right wing groups see an opportunity to target the minority community. This has been a part of larger narrative which demands a boycott of Muslim-owned businesses in India. This, however, reflects poorly on the secular image of India that even our Prime Minister talks about when abroad.

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