Opposition party, tipped to win national elections, has vowed to protect cattle, triggering fear among beef traders.
Indian-administered Kashmir has experienced a complete shut down in protest against a high court’s decision to implement a 83-year old law banning beef in the state.
All business establishments, shops and government offices were closed and public transport suspended on Saturday, as Kashmiris followed a call by pro-independence leaders to show their dissatisfaction over the court’s decision. Police and paramilitary forces were also deployed.
Shahidul Islam, spokesperson for the Hurriyat Conference (M), an alliance of secessionist parties, and one of the organisers behind the call to protest on Saturday, told Al Jazeera that Kashmiris would reject the court order.
“It is a Muslim majority state and as you must have seen from the last two days, the harsh reaction of the common people, people have clearly rejected this law, it will be very, very hard for government to impose this law here,” he said.
On Thursday, the Jammu and Kashmir high court had ordered authorities to strictly implement the 1932 law making slaughter of cows punishable with up to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine.
Indian authorities have not enforced the law in Kashmir for nearly seven decades and the decision came after a petition was filed at the courts for the law to be adhered to.
“Since the BJP has taken power it is trying to impose these type of laws through judiciary which is very unfortunate, I am not denying the fact that this law was already there, but now they used the judiciary,” Islam said.
Local journalist Rifat Mohidin told Al Jazeera that many Kashmiris were angry and said the move could spark a new wave of protests in the valley.
“People see the ban as a threat to their religious identity,” Mohidin said from Srinagar.
Responding to the ban, Waheed-Ur-Rehman, spokesperson for the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Indian-administered Kashmir, said his party believed “people should decide what they want to eat or don’t eat”.
“It is very hard to go to kitchens of the people and check what they have cooked … it is hard to control,” Rehman said.
Rehman would not say if his party supported the ban or not, though The Hindu newspaper on Friday reported that the party, currently in a coalition government with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Indian-administered Kashmir, had also criticised the move.
It is still not clear if the government would lodge an appeal against the ruling.
On Friday, hundreds of Kashmiris chanted anti-government slogans and hurled stones at police to protest against the court ruling.
Protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers in mosques in Srinagar, Pulwama, Pattan and elsewhere in the valley.
A ban on meat has been ordered in India’s financial hub of Mumbai and western Gujarat state as well, also governed by the ruling nationalist BJP with its alliances.
India is the world’s largest beef exporter and fifth-biggest consumer. In his election campaign of 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the previous Congress-led government of driving growth on the back of cow slaughter, an act considered sacrilegious by Hindus.
Since Modi came to power in May last year, the rhetoric on the protection of cows has increased.
Critics say tougher anti-beef laws discriminate against Muslims, Christians and lower-caste Hindus who rely on the cheap meat for protein.
Butchers and cattle traders, many of them Muslim, say the push threatens thousands of jobs.