Restaurants in New Delhi have been ordered to display a sign specifying the method of slaughter used for the meat on their menus, in what critics say is the latest attempt by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to divide India’s Hindu and Muslim communities. The South Delhi Municipal Corporation, which is controlled by the ruling BJP and covers around 2.7 million residents of the Indian capital’s most affluent area, issued an order last week requiring restaurants to display the method of slaughter “prominently” or face a fine of an as yet to be specified amount. A similar resolution by the East Delhi Municipal Corporation was passed late last year and North Delhi is expected to follow suit soon. Narendra Chawla, a BJP leader in the South Delhi corporation, said it was every citizen’s right to know what they were eating and likened to practice to how some overseas restaurants specified the source of their ingredients and whether they were organic or not. “It’s not a random whim on our part. People told us they wanted to know how the animal was slaughtered and they are entitled to know,” said Chawla. However, opponents of the BJP have criticised the order as an attempt to politicise differences between the religions as part of its Hindu nationalist agenda. They point out that restaurant owners say the vast majority of Indians who eat out do not ask what method of slaughter was used when they order. Most restaurants in the capital serve halal meat because the meat trade is dominated by Muslims. The Hindu method of slaughter, known as ‘jhatka’ in which the animal is killed with one swift blow, is less common. This is not the first time the BJP has been accused of politicising culinary differences between the religions. Since the BJP came to power in 2014 it has pursued a campaign against the slaughter of cows, which are sacred to Hindus but may be eaten by Muslims, and has clamped down on the trade of the meat. The campaign has been blamed for a rise in vigilante violence by Hindu groups against Muslims suspected of selling or eating beef. The National Restaurant Association of India had attempted to dissuade the South Delhi municipality from issuing its order last week, by arguing that most customers were interested only in whether the meat was hygienically prepared and of good quality. As India enters 2021, Narendra Modi’s Hindutva project is on a roll Many butchers agree with the association. “Maybe one in 500 customers ask me about the method of slaughter. Most people aren’t interested,” said Narendra Gill, the owner of a meat shop in Khan Market. The association also argued the order was an unnecessary complication just as the industry was beginning to emerge from losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. As most restaurants at present keep only halal meat the order will mean an extra cost – and probably more waste – as they switch to stocking both kinds. “Given that over 80 per cent of the meat supplied to the capital is halal, it may also be difficult for restaurant owners to find good quality jatka meat,” said Baljit Sharma, the owner of an eatery in Jangpura Extension. Food has long been a political hot potato in India and critics have previously accused the BJP of weaponising vegetarianism against Muslims, who account for about 14 per cent of the country’s population. The BJP has tried to propagate vegetarianism as an article of faith for Hindus even though for millions of Hindu Dalits (the lowest caste), meat-eating is normal and an important source of protein. “If it could, the BJP would love to enforce vegetarianism on everyone and put us all out of business,” said a Muslim butcher who asked not to be identified. Critics accuse the BJP of trying to tap into a vein of anti-Muslim sentiment that is visible throughout the country. In Mumbai, it is not uncommon for landlords to refuse to lease out properties to Muslims on the basis that cooking meat will upset the neighbours; in parts of Gujarat, where strict vegetarianism among Hindus is common, eggs are sold in black bags like contraband and in several BJP states they have been removed from school meals given to poor children on the grounds of religious sentiment, even for children suffering malnutrition. Love Jihad: a Muslim bogeyman in Indian states’ interfaith marriage laws In New Delhi, Radha Kant Vats who runs a cow shelter says Hindus have good reason to detest meat-eating. “Eating meat is not only unhealthy, it generates ‘heat’ in the body leading to violent and lustful feelings,” he said. The South Delhi corporation is expected to release details on the policy over the next fortnight, but implementing it will not be easy. “I realise that just by looking at meat ... it isn’t possible to tell if the halal or jhatka method was used but when restaurant owners buy the raw meat, they know so the onus is on them,” said Chawla. Meanwhile, the restaurant association says it will continue lobbying to have the order withdrawn.