The government of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, imposed on Saturday a ban on halal-certified products.
To justify its move, the Uttar Pradesh government has levied a range of dubious accusations against organizations involved in the halal consumer products industry.
The state government is taking criminal action against four entities that perform halal certification, alleging they are linked to the funding of terrorism. Its Food Security and Drug Administration also claims that these private organizations infringe on the right of the government to determine food quality.
The Real Goal: Erasure of Muslims
Since becoming chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in 2017, Adityanath has targeted Hindu-Muslim interfaith couples, making farcical allegations that these relationships are part of a “love jihad” campaign to surreptitiously convert Hindu girls to Islam.
Religious conversions, including those that coincide with marriages, now require state approval in Uttar Pradesh. Conversion to Hinduism, however, is effectively exempt from these restrictions. Adityanath has also renamed Indian cities that had names associated with Muslim figures or Islam and bulldozed Muslim homes.
Before coming to power, Adityanath was seen by even some Hindu nationalists as a fringe figure. But he’s since become one of India’s most popular politicians and a favorite to succeed Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Adityanath’s aims are the same as that of Modi: to convert India into a “Hindu Rashtra” — an authoritarian, Hindu majoritarian state in which Christians and Muslims are debased and rendered invisible in the public space.
Inspired by the Nazis, the Hindutva ideologue M.S. Golwalkar outlined these goals in a 1939 book in which he said that non-Hindus must be “wholly subordinated” to Hindus. Christians and Muslims, Golwalkar said, must glorify “the Hindu race and culture” and “lose their separate existence.” If they fail to do so, they must live “wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation” and live without “citizen’s rights.”
Golwalkar argued that Nazi Germany’s “purging the country” of the Jews provided “a good lesson” for Hindus on how to treat Christians and Muslims.
The War at Home
Notably, exports are exempt from Uttar Pradesh’s halal certification ban. India is the world’s second-largest exporter of halal meat to Muslim-majority countries. In fact, some Hindu nationalist leaders, including Sangeet Som of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), export halal-certified beef and other products to Muslims abroad.
Hindu nationalist politicians and militant groups violently target Muslims involved in the domestic beef trade, but many of the same individuals in these networks export halal meat abroad. Clearly, they don’t want to jeopardize India’s lucrative market position in the global halal products trade.
But, like Communist China, India’s Hindu nationalist government has differentiated between its domestic and foreign policies when it comes to Muslims. The BJP has grown relations with Muslim-majority countries like the United Arab Emirates, even as top party officials disparage Islam and attack Indian Muslims daily.
For India, the debate about religion is ultimately a battle within its own borders and its near periphery. Like the Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping, Modi’s BJP aims to forcibly assimilate Muslims into an ethno-nationalist state while deepening relations with authoritarian Muslim-majority countries abroad.
On Sunday, an anchor on the right-wing Indian news channel Republic claimed that halal certification was “an attempt to communalize the market” and “impos[e]” Muslim “ideas of ethics on the rest of the world.”
In the United States and many other countries, private companies obtain kosher, halal, and vegan certification for a broad range of products, including cheese and toothpaste. Such certification is a voluntary practice by businesses to guarantee that their products meet the ethical standards of distinct customer markets.
If an atheist purchases Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, which happens to be kosher-certified, the use of that product does not compel the customer to accept Jewish beliefs or the halakha. The same goes for products that are deemed halal and abide by the Islamic shari’ah.
Religious certification for consumer products is ultimately a market response to consumer choice and freedom of religion. Uttar Pradesh’s halal certification ban is about curbing those freedoms — not expanding them.
Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.
He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.