On 6 September 2018, Hanif Qureshi, a 38-year-old poultry butcher, was working in the Ghazipur Murga Mandi—chicken market—in East Delhi. At around 9 am that morning, about fifty police officers stormed into the market and started evicting the poultry butchers from the premises. “Unho ne kaha tha ki saari katai band kar do, warna hum tumhe kaat denge,”—The police said stop all slaughtering or we will slaughter you—Hanif told me. He was one of the thousands of people—butchers and labourers who transport livestock and chicket meat—who worked in the Murga Mandi. Most of these workers are from the Qureshi community, a backward Muslim group that is predominantly engaged in the meat trade. “We have been doing this work for generations now; this is all we can do. What do we do now that they have thrown us out?” Hanif said.
In February last year, Gauri Maulekhi, a member of the Animal Welfare Board of India, a statutory body advising the environment ministry, had filed a writ petition in the Delhi high court, demanding that all slaughtering at the Murga Mandi be stopped, as the market was operating illegally. The Delhi Pollution Control Board submitted a report two months later, which stated the various violations of rules of slaughtering in the market—for instance, the market did not have a treatment facility for waste management, and had not been granted permission to draw water from the nearby borewell. In August, the sub-divisional magistrate for the eastern region directed the Delhi Agricultural Marketing Board to stop illegal slaughtering in the area. Since then, the East Delhi Municipal Corporation and the Delhi Police have conducted various raids to stop poultry slaughtering. On 29 September, the Delhi high court said that some illegal slaughtering was still taking place in the area and ordered it to stop immediately.
While government authorities have consistently cracked down on slaughterhouses, few addressed the main concern of the Qureshis—their resulting loss of livelihood. Their plight does not seem to be an issue in the upcoming Lok Sabha election for the East Delhi constituency. The constituency has received high-decibel media coverage owing to its popular candidates—Atishi from the Aam Aadmi Party, who is often credited with reforming the education system in Delhi, and the former international cricketer Gautam Gambhir, from the Bharatiya Janata Party. Atishi, Gambhir and the Congress’s candidate, Arvinder Singh Lovely, have not raised the issue in their campaigns.
The indifference of political parties is just one part of the systemic marginalisation that the Qureshis have faced for decades. In 2009, the Supreme Court ordered that the Idgah abattoir in north Delhi—where thousands of Qureshi butchers worked—be shut down, rendering most of them unemployed. The closure of their trade in Ghazipur is the second blow to the community, many of whose members are disillusioned with government authorities, as well as the electoral process. “Vote deke kya hoga?” Hamza Qureshi, a 28-year-old butcher who used to work in Ghazipur, told me—what will change if we vote?
The present situation in Ghazipur bears a striking resemblance to the closure of the Idgah, which had been operational since the early 1900s. Towards the end of the century, various public interest litigations were filed against the Idgah, claiming that it was unhygienic and caused health hazards. The petitioners included the Shri Sanatan Dharm Sabha, a religious organisation; and Maneka Gandhi, who is now the minister of women and child development. Maulekhi, the petitioner who approached the court last year, is a close associate of Gandhi. The Idgah was shut down in 2009, and a new mechanised abattoir was set up in Ghazipur. Over time, a livestock market emerged in the region, around the abattoir.