Dealing with halal hegemony – Abhijit Iyer-Mitra

Sugar Candy

Abhijit Iyer-MitraThe answer to religious identitarianism is not competitive identitarianism. Rather, it is staunch and uncompromising secularism. – Abhijit Iyer-Mitra

Himalaya Wellness has gone halal. A company whose entire business case was to market Ayurvedic products has decided to go in for halal compliance simply in order to be able to access the big Middle East market. Of course, most Western cosmetic brands are not “halal compliant” and that hasn’t prevented, say, Christian Dior or Yves Saint Laurent from racking up sales in the Middle East. So the question here is: Why did Himalaya feel that it needed this compliance certificate to compete? How does it affect Hindus? And what should we be doing about it?

In order to understand what we should do about it, we should first understand what it is.

The term “Halal Certification” is quite misunderstood. Mostly, this comes from the fact that for most Indians their first and most tactile understanding of “halal” comes from meat—specifically the cruel process of slitting an animal’s throat and allowing it to bleed out, without being stunned first; stunning the animal so that it feels no pain being strictly forbidden. Moreover, the slaughtering and processing from that point on also need to be carried out by a Muslim and a Muslim prayer needs to be said during the throat slitting.

However, halal certification for non-meat products is a fairly straightforward and non-controversial process. You have to ensure that the production process stays clear of all “haram” products such as blood, derivatives of pigs and non-halal slaughtered animal products and specifically no alcohol used in the cleaning or manufacture of the product.

The main difference here between halal meat and general product halal certification that is germane to us is employment and exclusion. Halal meat by its fundamental nature has to only employ Muslims and exclude other religions, whereas a general product like Himalaya has no such employment or employment exclusion requirements.

Technically, if you exclude the alcohol, every vegan-certified non-food product would be “halal” certified. So where’s the problem here? I mean technically every vegan non-food product could be a “dharmik” or “Hindu” certified product right? Fundamentally any vegan, animal cruelty-free certified product would exclude leather, dairy, animal fat or anything that causes harm or pain to a living being. Is there anything specific that is specific to the dharmik faiths as a common minimum programme that is not already covered by “vegan” and “cruelty-free”?

So, we should obviously go along with non-food halal certification, right? Wrong. You see, of late, certification has become an extremely lucrative industry in its own right, creating employment, setting norms and having the power to extort. This isn’t unlike CRT and Gender Ideology-trained “diversity” staff at any major organisation, who have to go through a certain indoctrination (creating schools and employment for those inclined to this ideology pouring huge amounts of money) and then implement said ideology in other institutions. If you do not employ these people, you are deemed a racist and your stock value is attacked—essentially blackmail.

The same goes for halal. While we have not seen it weaponised yet, it is only a matter of time before it is. Essentially then, while non-food halal certification is not exclusionary at first sight, it holds a potential to turn into a criminally extortive racket like “inclusivity” certification.

This is where the overlap with meat halal certification comes in. As we know, the halal meat racket has gotten so powerful that the default for all Indian commercial catering—air, land and sea—is halal. It has fundamentally excluded the Hindu Schedule Castes and Tribes associated with the butchers’ craft from huge sections of the economy—not through design, but through sheer market power exercised by consolidation of less than 20 per cent of the population. It is this future cartelisation and punitive withdrawal of non-food halal certification for political purposes that needs to be pre-empted now.

There are several ways of doing this. The one thing we should not do is concoct some artificial dietary and product standard that has never existed in the country. Rather, it’s different strokes for different folks. The first is to combat the stranglehold of halal food and marginalisation of Dalits, and to insist first on all non-religious restaurants serving their customers a choice of halal and “cruelty free” jhatka meat. This can be done under the aegis of prevention of animal cruelty legislation.

The second is to create employment opportunities for certification. Instead of doing this under the rubric of religion, this should be set up like the great French and Italian denomination and appellation control boards which create classification, generate employment and significantly value add to non-meat food products.

The third is to institutionalise vegan certification by vegans for all non-food products which creates yet another parallel source of secular employment. It does not cancel out halal which is a right of the Muslim minority but it does create a mechanism to defray extortion where the mere addition of a “non-alcohol” category for a vegan product would legally become “deemed halal certified” breaking the cartelisation of halal certification.

All of these will end exclusion, marginalisation and create new job opportunities. It is high time that Hindus stop behaving like chimpanzees wanting to ape everything that every regressive, identitarian Islamic movement does. The answer to religious identitarianism is not competitive identitarianism. Rather, it is staunch and uncompromising secularism. – Firstpost, 2 April 2022

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra is a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi.

Halal cow slaughter in Andhra Pradesh