Gurugram: Unless you have meat stored in your refrigerator or are planning to order some online, Tuesday cooking at Gurugram homes must follow a vegetarian menu. The reason? The recent ban on the sale of raw meat in the city on Tuesdays. The ban also covers the sale of fish, though eggs are exempted from this rule.
The Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG) on 18 March banned the sale of raw meat in the city on Tuesdays, supposedly as a mark of respect to “Hindu sentiments”. The proposal was passed despite reported objection from MCG commissioner, Vinay Pratap Singh. Singh had reportedly said that food was an “individual choice”.
Residents unhappy with the ban see it as an unwelcome curb on their personal choice to eat, or not, what they want any day of the week, but for meat traders it is a more serious issue of loss of business and income. What makes it worse, according to them, is that the decision seems “unfair” and “unjust” — raw meat continues to be available for sale online and restaurants are not barred from serving meat either.
The Corporation’s reason that restaurants and online stores are not under its jurisdiction doesn’t take away from the distress of shop-owners affected by the ban.
While smaller business, selling only raw meats, are the worst-hit by the ban, the Corporation directive does cover bigger retailers too, such as departmental stores and retail chains. All licenced raw meat shops fall under the jurisdiction of the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon. This includes premium stores like Modern Bazaar, Foodhall and Le Marche.
ThePrint reached representatives of a Foodhall outlet in Gurugram’s Gold Course Road on the store’s landline number, but there was no response till the time of publishing this report. A Le Marche official, contacted over phone, only said that “they weren’t authorised to speak on the issue”. Modern Bazaar was more forthcoming, and confirmed that they have not been operating their raw-meat counter on Tuesdays since the ban came into effect.
Surendra Pal Singh, manager of two Modern Bazaar outlets, said, “Premium stores also have to follow government guidelines and as there’s a blanket ban on sale of raw meat and butchering, we are following the directives. Our raw meat counters are shut on Tuesdays. But frozen meat and other non-vegetarian items are available for sale even on that day.”
For a clearer idea on the ban, and the reasoning behind it, ThePrint reached Ashish Shingla, chief medical officer, MCG, both on WhatsApp and phone, but received no response. The MCG commissioner was also approached, on phone and over email, but no response was received till the time of publishing this report.
Gurugram has 129 licensed meat shops, of which 120 remained closed last Tuesday. Those who opened their shops, were let off with a warning.
Targeting small retailers
“What kind of a law is this? It only hurts small retailers, while big online stores eat into our business,” rued 38-year-old Pramod Kumar, who runs a small shop, Sonu Chicken Corner, in Sector 14, Gurugram.
“The law should treat everyone equally. If shops selling raw meat are shut on Tuesdays, even online stores shouldn’t be allowed to deliver and restaurants shouldn’t be allowed to serve food,” he added. The Corporation’s reasoning of jurisdictional restrictions doesn’t really matter to him.
This is not the first time that meat sellers in Gurugram have felt unfairly treated by the Corporation. The MCG started issuing licenses for shops selling raw meat in 2017. But retailers complain nothing has been done since to facilitate ease of business.
“They make us feel like we’re running a dirty business, something to be conducted furtively,” says the owner of a raw-meat shop, on the condition of anonymity. “Imagine this, Gurugram doesn’t even have an abattoir. The meat has to be brought in from Delhi early every morning.”
Carrying on with his grumblings against the corporation, the shopkeeper alleged, “The MCG is corrupt. All they have done since 2017 is harass us and charge us ridiculous amounts of money. The license renewal fee has been doubled [ironically the same day that the Tuesday ban on sales came in] from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000. The fee isn’t as high even in Mumbai.”
While the ban means a four-day loss in business every month for shop owners, the rent, cost of labour and other operational charges remain the same. David Naved Watharkar, 34, proprietor of the David and Company meat shop in Gurugram’s Arjun Market, said that problems with the MCG go unaddressed since there is no association of meat shop owners in the city to take up their issues.
“I pay a rent of Rs 2 lakh per month for my shop in DLF Phase-I. But the ban means that I have to incur a loss of four-days’ income every month.”
Then there is the question of customer retention, which may lead to more long-term problems for many. “In the past few days, my shop was first shut for Holi and then again on Tuesday because of the ban. Even our most loyal of customers have had to order from online stores. We are losing customers to big online companies like BigBasket and Licious,” he added.
It is difficult for the shop owners to take a stand against the rule, at least individually, says Watharkar, because “while getting our licenses renewed, we have to sign an undertaking that we’ll comply by the decision of the MCG when it comes to when we can open our shops and when we can’t”.
To eat, or not to eat
Meanwhile, non-vegetarian cuisine is still available at restaurants. The ban on sale of raw meat on Tuesdays only means that food joints, big and small, have to now buy and store it from Monday.
Shantanu Mondal, manager of a brewery on Golf Course Road said they’ve continued to serve non-vegetarian to their customers the past two Tuesdays, since the ban came into effect. “We have a total of seven breweries across Gurugram. We source our meat for Tuesday on Monday evening and freeze it. The meat also takes some time to marinate.”
Some other breweries and restaurants, like Manhattan Bar Exchange and ReSet By Plan B, said source their meat from Delhi anyway, and weren’t even aware of the ban.
But not having the option of buying and cooking fresh meat at home has irked many residents, who see it as an unnecessary intrusion by the Corporation into their personal space and freedom.
“We don’t need such polarisation in the country,” said 52-year-old Nischal Singh, a real estate developer. “I am Sikh. Why should I have to forego meat on Tuesdays for a Hindu deity? This law is unilateral and foolish, especially when businesses have already taken a hit because of the Covid situation.”
Former World Bank employee, Deepak Ahluwalia, questioned the logic behind closing meat shops a single day of the week. “Does it take care of people’s sentiments to close shop for one day. Other days it’s fine to sell meat?” he asked, adding, “I don’t see a reason why I shouldn’t be able to buy meat on Tuesdays if I want to. Things were working fine till now, weren’t they?”
If anything, the ban has managed to drive a wedge between common people who may otherwise have not given much thought to the subject. In stark contrast to Singh’s opinion is that of Sanjay Gupta, a sweet shop owner in Gurugram. “I think it’s a great decision,” he said, “one that should’ve been taken earlier. Why can’t people stop eating meat for one day? Why can’t they respect Hindus? Even liquor shops should be closed on Tuesdays.”
Agreed an advertising professional who didn’t want to be named, “If Tuesday is considered a holy day by 80 per cent of the country, meat shop owners can just consider it as an off day. I don’t understand why people have made such a big deal out of this issue, we have many bigger things to discuss. Many shops remain closed on Monday, some on Wednesdays, others on Saturdays…”.
But some meat-shop owners see this as an imposition of upper-caste Hindu beliefs — meat shops are typically owned by Muslims and those from the scheduled castes.
“Why would seth log [the elite] do this business?” asked one, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I am a Valmiki by caste, most other meat shop owners also belong to the lower castes or are Muslim by faith. When have we ever been respected in this country?”
Another meat shop owner, a Muslim, says he would anyway keep his shop closed on Tuesdays, even before the ban was put in place. “We should respect and follow the religion of the country we live in.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)