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It has been less than two months since beef was banned in Maharashtra. Mumbai’s Deonar abattoir, one of Asia’s largest, and the butchers working there, have taken a direct hit.

It was on 2 March that President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to the pending Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 1995. Till then, around 450 animals would be slaughtered every day at the abattoir, near Chembur, that is managed by the Brihanmumbai municipal corporation. The number has come down to 250. Only water buffaloes can be culled now.

“We were earning about 90,000 a day. But now it has fallen to 50,000 a day. As a result of the reduced activity, many butchers have lost their jobs," says Kaleem Pathan, deputy general manager of the abattoir, adding, “You can look around, but we will not allow any media coverage inside."

The abattoir had close to 600 butchers; at least half of them now have no work. “Most of them sit around at tea shops, markets," says Pathan. Some, he says, have taken up jobs at butcheries where they work with chickens and goats.

“I have been totally jobless since early March. Every day, my family asks me what I will do now. I don’t understand this ban," says 34-year-old Younus Qureishi, who worked as a butcher at the abattoir. It has not been easy for people like Qureishi to move on to slaughtering buffaloes. For, there are already enough people for that job.

“The taste of red meat obtained from bulls is very different and the demand for water buffalo meat is less as people don’t prefer it. Because of that the supply of water buffaloes has traditionally been less," says Vijay Dalvi, secretary of the Sarva Shramik Sangh, a workers’ union at the abattoir.

Since there are enough suppliers of mutton and chicken, there is now greater competition for the job of slaughtering water buffaloes. “The government is not considering rehabilitating the workers (butchers). They should help them get other jobs like driving, etc," says Dalvi.

“We are not planning to give any rehabilitation as the butchers were not government employees," says Mahesh Pathak, secretary of the state’s animal husbandry department.

Qureishi, a father of three, worked at the abattoir for 17 years. He is now part of the Al-Qureishi Ekta Welfare Society, which has been organizing protests and plans to challenge the ban in court.

Syed Hasham, 67, is not optimistic about the outcome. He has worked as a butcher for more than 44 years and says he is now too old to look for a new profession.

For the moment, his only plan is to rely on his children.

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