The trouble in this otherwise peaceful panchayat started on May 5, as it witnessed some unprecedented incidents.

Lack of licence unpaid hafta or communal reasons The story of a Kerala beef stalls closure
news Politics Tuesday, May 16, 2017 - 17:33

Nallila, a small non-descript village in Nedumbana Panchayat in Kollam, suddenly found itself hurtled into the headlines last week. On Friday, hundreds partook of a free meal of beef curry with tapioca and bread at the village’s market junction.

The attention-grabbing beef fest, organised by the CPI(M) and its youth wing DYFI, was also backed by local Congress leaders. It was the CPI(M)’s loud retort to the BJP for shutting down a beef stall in the Nallila market on May 6. The trouble in this otherwise peaceful panchayat started on May 5, as it witnessed some unprecedented incidents.

On May 5, Noushad, who sells beef in various parts of Nedumbana Panchayat and also owns the beef stall, got a call from a local BJP leader. The BJP leader had one demand: Noushad should shut his shop for a day. But Radhakrishnan alias Makku Radhakrishnan’s phone call that initially demanded a one day shutdown resulted in the closure of Noushad’s shop in the market. After the BJP forcibly closed his shop on May 6, Noushad has not been allowed to re-open, as the police say he does not have the necessary license.

Noushad, who has been in the business for the past 15 years however, has a different story to tell. The trader told TNM that the BJP created trouble for him as had refused to contribute an amount they desired to the party fund. “They used to ask money saying that it was for their party fund. I gave Rs 1000, but they were not happy with that. I believe that it was an act of vengeance. Initially, they asked me to stop the sale for a single day. The BJP workers erected a flag in front of the shop on the same day, and I have not been allowed to open my shop after that,” Noushad said.

 “Some BJP workers alleged that I was contributing enormously to other political parties, but not to their party. But none of the other political parties have ever approached me for money. I am a well-wisher of the CPI(M). That also might have prompted them to act against me. I sell processed beef in the stall and don’t dispose waste here,” he added.

When we visited the village located around 18 km away from Kollam city, many residents spoke fearfully about the repercussions of such small incidents. Many fear that these skirmishes could lead to communal violence.

“If not possessing a license was the problem, why did the BJP not target other meat and fish sellers in the market who don’t have a license either? They must have chosen Nallila, as in this Christian dominated region, people don’t normally react to provocations. Moreover, they chose to target a Muslim, Would they have dared to do it elsewhere?” asks Mathewkutty, who is the Mandalam secretary of the Congress, Nallila.

Though Noushad has received support from many in the market and other political parties, police maintain that they asked to stop sale of beef as the Panchayat had not issued a license for the stall. “The panchayat hadn’t auctioned stalls in the market and issued licenses. All panchayats should have slaughterhouses, but Nedumbana Panchayat doesn’t have one,” a police officer said.

BJP leader Radhakrishnan echoed the police’s version. “We are not against beef. I used to buy beef from the stall for my hotel. By not auctioning the stall for the past five years, the panchayat has lost Rs 50 lakh. There is no slaughterhouse in Nedumbana, and the panchayat has failed to follow other guidelines, like issuing certificates from a veterinary doctor for selling beef. Not just Nallila, the BJP is approaching the High Court and will ask for strict implementation of the HC order in June 2016 on all slaughterhouses,” he said.

Creating divides?

John, an elderly resident who runs a shop near the market fears that the BJP’s move was in tandem to its course of action in the rest of the country. 

“Ninety per cent of people in Nallila are Christians, but we never associate our eating habits with religion or caste. I am a Christian, but I am a vegetarian. This attack on Noushad’s shop was an attempt to spark communal tension and make political gains out of that. Many people, including elderly couples who live alone, like to eat beef. Now, many won’t be able to go out of the village to buy it,” he said.

72-year-old Baby says he hasn’t seen anything like this before in the village. “What the BJP has done is ridiculous,” he said. Radhakrishnan, another shop owner near the market said that the BJP’s attempt to link the incident with licensing can’t be accepted. “It’s not a slaughterhouse which was functioning in the market, but a meat selling stall. No waste is disposed from the stall in the market or its premises. This hasn’t happened ever before,” he said.

Saifuddheen, a businessman in Nallila, said that residents were planning to register a police complaint against the shutting down of the shop. “We don’t fear the BJP. But we fear such attempts would affect our younger generations,” he said.

CPI(M) led Left Democratic Front has been ruling Nedumpana Panchayat for the past several terms. “Over the years, the Panchayat has many achievements to its credit. It has won Swaraj trophy instituted by the government for the best panchayat thrice and an award from the Union government once. The beef issue is a deliberate attempt to defame the panchayat in the national level. Food habits here are not connected with caste or religion,” Nedumbana panchayat former vice president Shiju Kumar said.

Nallila, famous for its old Christian churches, has seen at least four minor attacks on ‘kurishadis’ or small worship places built independently or near churches. The accused in these cases are still at large.

Thomas Koshy, a CPI(M) member of the panchayat alleged that this was not the first time that the BJP had tried to stoke tension. “The local leaders may have thought they would get applause from the national leadership. Around 50 families depend on Noushad’s meat business. What was the need to shut one of his stalls?” Koshy asked. 

The tension between the CPI(M) and BJP runs deep in the village now. The two parties had locked horns a few years ago when the BJP tried to acquire revenue land next to Pazhangalam Temple at Nallilla. “The land they tried to possess at Pallivettakkav is some 800 meters from the temple. A temple ritual is conducted on this land once a year. But staking claim for the land, the BJP tried to create disharmony,” Koshy said.  


Images Courtesy: Sanjay Nallila 

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