Ban on cow slaughter issue hurting India's leather industry

The election of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) three years ago has encouraged right-wing Hindu groups to push harder for protection of the cow, an animal they consider sacred. Authorities in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, started closing down unlicensed abattoirs in March, immediately hitting production and sales in the Muslim-dominated meat industry. Last month Modi's government also banned trading cattle for slaughter, including not just cows, whose killing was already outlawed in most states, but also buffalo, an animal used for meat and leather. Frequent attacks by right-wing Hindus against workers they accuse of harming cattle have further banged the industry. Much of India's meat and leather trade takes place in the informal economy, but cattle markets are reporting a big slowdown in trade and tanneries a shortage of hides.  
Millions work in the meat and leather industries, which are worth more than $16 billion in annual sales. Muslims were no longer safe to trade buffalo, buy cow leather for shoes or to do work that their community has done for centuries for fear of being attacked by Hindu watch committee. Like meat, India's leather industry has expanded rapidly in the last decade, providing relatively well-paid factory work and cash for families stitching informally in their homes. Agra, in Uttar Pradesh, turns out a million pairs of shoes a day for domestic buyers and European labels such as Inditex-owned Zara and Clarks. An estimated 40 percent of the population of the northern Indian city, famed as the home of the Taj Mahal, depends on the industry. India is one of the world's top five producers of leather, with skins coming from cows that die of natural causes or from the legal slaughter of buffalo. Modi's government is targeting leather revenues of $27 billion more than double today's level by 2020 as part of a job creation push.
In May, the government decreed that animal markets could only trade cow and buffalo for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and dairy production. India's environment minister said this week the government could amend the rule after a court temporarily stayed the order and there was widespread anger in regions where meat and leather are important to the local culture and economy. India BJP government takes tougher line on cattle slaughter. Muslim minority fears for livelihoods in shoemaking centre. $16 billion-plus meat and leather supply chain affected. An estimated 40 percent of the population of the northern Indian city, famed as the home of the Taj Mahal, depends on the industry. Clarks said in a statement that it does not use leather from Indian-origin cows and that the small amount of buffalo leather it sources from India had not been impacted. Industry officials said the shock of the ban, coming on the heels of the crackdown on abattoirs and attacks against cattle workers, meant business would not easily recover. Companies say the government's leather target would be impossible to meet unless the restrictions are reversed."There is a lot of panic in the industry after the latest order, which has come as the biggest blow," Puran Dawar, chairman of Agra-based exporter Dawar Footwear Industries, said as hundreds of workers moulded shoes on the factory floor, referring to the ban on cattle traded for slaughter."There are grave concerns about the supply of leather, exports of shoes and overall employment."In Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a controversial Hindu priest, had made closing unlicensed slaughter houses a priority after Modi appointed him in March. About 30 percent of hides, mostly from buffaloes, that supply tanneries in the state are from unlicensed abattoirs. Business was down 40 percent in the last three months. The recent scarcity of hides had hurt Hindus as much as Muslims. 
Modi's election in 2014 and resurgence in right-wing Hindu activism have increased concerns among Muslims that their livelihoods are under attack. As a minority making up 14 percent of India's 1.3 billion people, they are generally poorer and less literate than majority Hindus. In the industrial city of Kanpur, 250 km (155 miles) east of Agra, tanneries processing buffalo skins are reporting job losses as the availability of hides dries up. Nayyar Jamal, general secretary of Kanpur's Small Tanners' Association, reckons as many as 400,000 employees in Kanpur's leather and related industries are temporarily jobless, including some laid off because of environmental curbs on tannery pollution. Supplies of local hides have dropped by 20 to 30 percent. The butchers' organization, estimates that 3.5 million employees in Uttar Pradesh alone have been directly hit. Tannery owner Mohammad Ikram said he was only able to procure 4,000 hides a month - down from 25,000 - because even truckers transporting legally obtained cow or buffalo hides fear attacks from vigilantes. He has a month's inventory left, and when that runs out he will have to start shedding staff. A wage laborer stuffing synthetic shoes into plastic bags in Muqeem's cellar in Agra lost his last job after his employer could no longer afford leather.