In the latest setback to the Muslim-dominated meat industry, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government decreed animal markets will only be able to trade cattle for agricultural purposes such as plowing and dairy production.
The ban is likely to further alienate Muslims, who make up 14 percent of India's 1.3 billion people, and raise communal and religious tensions. Hindu hardliners and cow vigilante groups have been increasingly asserting themselves since Modi's Hindu nationalist government came to power in 2014.
Most of India's beef comes from water buffalo rather than cows, which are considered holy by Hindus, but local cattle traders and slaughterhouses have repeatedly come under attacks from activist groups that oppose the meat trade.
"In the garb of the order that prohibits the trading of cattle at organized markets, the government has tried to impose a ban on the meat industry," Abdul Faheem Qureshi, head of the Muslim All India Jamiatul Quresh Action Committee, told Reuters.
"Meat supplies will very soon grind to a halt in India and abroad if either the government does not repeal this draconian order or a court does not step in," Qureshi said.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.