Claim: Halal products are being used to create a parallel economic system to fund Islamic Jihad.
Busted! : Circulation of halal products in markets is creating a parallel economy to fund violent.
Hindutva groups have claimed that the circulation of halal groups has led to “anti-national” activities being funded and a parallel economy being run. However, existing institutional mechanisms, point otherwise. Firstly, according to those who supply halal certificates, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has notified certification bodies to register themselves with the National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies (NABCB), Quality Council of India.
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This means that the certification process seems to be very much under the government’s purview. Secondly, the UP government has banned the sale of these product only on the domestic market, there is insufficient evidence as how this could lead to the creation of any parallel economy. The domestic flow of halal goods, according to reports, is very low as most of the halal certification process on goods is done for export purposes. Multinational corporations, like Reliance, Adani Pvt Ltd., make use of halal certificates for their exports. Thus, the ban on these goods seems untenable and appears to be motivated by political reasons other than what seems to have been stated. There is no national halal certifying body in India for export goods or for the sale of goods in India. In the absence of this, the sentiment against halal goods seems like an attempt is being made to communalise as issue which is bureaucratic and has little to do with religion.
What are Halal products?
Recently the UP government initiated a ban on the manufacture, sale, and distribution of Halal non-meat products, including cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, within domestic markets; as of now, there is no ban on the export of these products.
Halal essentially means “lawful” or “permissible”; observant of the Islamic faith are required to follow dietary guidelines set by Islamic law that designates certain food items as halal i.e., permissible, and thereby prohibits others.
Apart from Muslims, Jews also have a system of religiously mandated dietary prescriptions which are followed globally, called kosher. Due to these dietary preferences, there is a global demand for halal and kosher foods that industries worldwide seek to meet. Countries across the world have mechanisms, public and private, to certify halal and kosher foods for citizens. According to Forbes, the global market for halal goods was set to reach 3 trillion dollars in 2023. There are several brands, cites Forbes, that provide halal certified products such as dates, hummus, cosmetics, meat etc. Similarly, kosher food also faces a growing market for consumers who are Jewish and non-Jewish alike.
Speaking to Forbes, Shayn Prapaisilp, chief operating officer of Global Foods Group, an international grocery store in Missouri that stocks thousands of halal products and imports from around the world, says that, “Muslims represent a significant market segment that American brands are not always reaching,” and posits that halal food is imported from across the world, including North Africa, Asia, and even parts of Europe. Amongst countries globally, Turkey, Vietnam and Thailand, Japan, Philippines and even Australia are leading in the production of halal products at a global level. India too is said to have a “booming” share in this industry.
Why do companies use halal certificates on vegetarian or non-food items?
Halal certification for products is mainly pursued by manufacturers for export purposes because it is a market requirement. In India, several companies are responsible for issuing halal certificates, these companies are not religious bodies but remain in connection with religious bodies. Consumers of halal goods want to be ensured that the products they are buying, be it cosmetics or medicine, and is halal-compliant, in the sense that it does not hold ingredients, such as alcohol or pork. According to Scroll.in, companies seek halal certification as a halal certificate is mandatory for exporting products to Muslim-majority nations. Some of the products that are to be exported sometimes are distributed in the domestic market as a way of cutting costs, however that remains a very small percentage of products. In India, private entities, often with the support of religious bodies, are responsible for issuing these certificates.
The first recorded instance of halal certification being issues in India was recorded in 1974 for meat. Following this, in 1993, this was extended to other products as well. Since, unlike other nations, India has no official certifying committee or body for certifying halal goods. Thereby in the absence of one, organisations have to take up the role to provide certifications for companies to export these products abroad.
So, what is the Halal product ban row?
In April 2022, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court for a complete ban on halal certification and products which argued that it was an imposition forced on “85%” of Indians. Earlier this year, a company like Himalaya was targeted for having meat in its products, after halal labels on Himalaya’s products went viral, suggesting that halal means a product has non-vegetarian content in it. The company had to release a statement decrying these claims and asserting that it adhered to all the demands of transparency and standards set by the government.
— Himalaya Wellness Company (@HimalayaIndia) April 1, 2022
However, now there appears to be some sort of a consensus on the arguments used in the Hindutva circles against halal products. None of the organisations are arguing that halal products necessitate the inclusion of meat in the product, there appears to have been an update in the information systems regarding the arguments used.
For instance, on the website of an organisation called Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, one is greeted with the statement, “Beware! Halal completely controls your life!” It further claims, “Halal Certification is slowly becoming all-pervasive. From food to cosmetics, from hospitals to hospitality, from clothing to housing, Halal certification is chipping away into the nation’s economy. It is a system that is dictated by a certain religion’s beliefs that has crept into India’s secular system. It is a parallel economy that has taken a giant leap to stand up and challenge the GDP of quite a few nations. It is a system that has been found complicit in terror funding.” Earlier this year in February, the HJS had even initiated a protest and submitted a memorandum to the local MLA in Dhanbad for the ban on halal goods.
These arguments are similar to what Neeraj Denoria, a Bajrang Dal associate, stated in a speech recently on November 19, in Lucknow. He parroted the same conspiracy theory, “This is an economic system created by Islamic Jihadis. It is through this, there is a parallel system run by Islamic Jihadis. This money is being spread on Love Jihad, Islamic Jihad, Ghazwa e Hind, Madarsa. I appreciate the UP CM for banning halal products.”
Thus, it can be noted that the question of Halal products has been taken up by Hindutva groups. However, this issue did not really gain any traction from the government late last month in November, when an FIR was registered at the Hazratganj Police Station based on a complaint filed by Shailendra Kumar Sharma, a Lucknow resident and office-bearer of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM).
The complaint alleged the unauthorised use of “illegal halal certificates” by certain companies was used to enhance sales within “a particular community”. Sharma argues that the financial gains from such practices are being channelled to support terrorist organisations. Responding to this complaint, the police had filed charges against Halal India Pvt Ltd in Chennai, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind Halal Trust in New Delhi, and the Halal Council of India and Jamiat Ulema in Mumbai. The charges include multiple sections of the Indian Penal Code, such as 120B (criminal conspiracy), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 298 (intent to wound religious feelings), 384 (extortion), 420 (cheating), 467 (forgery), 468 (forgery for the purpose of cheating), 471 (using as genuine a forged document), and 505 (statements that cause public mischief).
In other news, similarly, union minister Giriraj Singh has also written a letter on November 22 to the chief minister of Bihar demanding a ban on halal certificates.
Union Minister for Rural Development Giriraj Singh has written a letter to the Chief Minister of Bihar demanding to ban on Halal certificates like in Uttar Pradesh and take action against destructive forces. pic.twitter.com/cWTyUw0a4Q
— ANI (@ANI) November 23, 2023
Similarly, on November 18, the Uttar Pradesh government issued an order, through the Food Security and Drug Administration (FSDA), prohibiting the manufacturing, sale, storage, and distribution of specific items certified as halal. The directive also called for actions against organisations engaged in producing and selling drugs and cosmetics with halal certification.
Why has the UP government banned it?
According to Scroll.in, the UP government claims that the halal product ban is an attempt to discourage attempts to “weaken the country” by “anti-national elements” that aim to “create divisions” and create “unfair financial benefits.” The government has argued that this requirement for halal certification, is leading to people from other communities losing out in business, and thereby, to also creating a “parallel system to confuse people.”
The Uttar Pradesh government claimed that attempts to discourage the use of products without halal certificates lead to “unfair financial benefits” and also form part of a strategy to “sow class hatred, create divisions in society, and weaken the country” by “anti-national elements”, according to PTI.
Do these accusations hold ground? The accusation stands that there is a parallel economy run by the sale of halal products. So, one can safely assume this economy is sustained only by the revenue generated in the domestic sale since the UP-government’s ban is not on exports.
However, one glaring contradiction is evident: if halal products are funding Islamist or anti-national violence then why is there a ban only on the domestic flow of these goods? Should the government’s imperative not be to curb an end to even the domestic flow of these if they are being used to run an alleged parallel economy completely?
Could it be possible that this ban is not implemented on the flow of exported goods, which seems to be where the majority of such products are catered towards, because this is a conspiracy, dog whistle theory? If a ban on halal goods exports were to be implemented then that would ensure a huge loss in the revenue of large scale multinational companies, such as Adani Wilmar Ltd, Reliance Industries, Tata, Himalaya, and even Baba Ramdev’s Ramdev Food Company etc., each of whom are noted to collect halal certificates to sell their products abroad.
Furthermore, one would assume, to sustain a “parallel economy” the sale, distribution and demands of the products would be considerably large? But is that the case?
Observers suggest otherwise. Shubha Prada Nishtala, a member of the Association of Food Scientists and Technologists of India, speaking to Scroll.in, confirms that there is “no consumer asks as such for non-meat (halal) products.”
Furthermore, an official from All India Food Processors’ Association has claimed the crackdown in Uttar Pradesh was in “conflict with the Centre’s policy”. “All these halal certifying bodies are valid businesses. So how can UP say they are illegal?”
Similarly, a spokesperson for the Jamiat, who also runs a halal certification company, has stated that, as required by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry notification, they are registered with the NABCB (National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies under Quality Council of India). The team at Sabrang India has verified this: the Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind Halal Trust is listed under “Product Certification Bodies” at the NABCB’s website, with a validity up to 2026 and is credited for granting certificates for halal meat.