Dr. Zarin Ahmad (JNU, New Delhi)

Holy Cow and Qureshi Butchers. Negotiating Occupation, Sensitivity and Stigma in Colonial North India

01 September 2017 – 31 December 2017

This research project is an attempt at understanding the emergence of Qureshi politics in colonial north India. The Qureshi biradri (loosely translated as an endogamous kin group) is a Muslim occupational group associated with slaughtering animals and selling cow, bull, buffalo, sheep and goat meat, while chicken is a recent addition to the Qureshi repertoire. Butchering as an occupation and butchers per se face many tensions and contradictions in contemporary India. There is considerable pressure on this occupation from divergent and overlapping sources — campaign against the slaughter of bovine animals, animal rights movements, environmental concerns, policies for clean cities and urban aesthetics, an underlying stigma associated with blood and slaughtering, and last but not the least violence by Hindu Right activists in the name of the holy cow. On the other hand, meat is a rising sector in the Indian economy and a major foreign exchange earner.
Qureshi butchers find themselves located at the crossroads of intersecting parameters of class, caste, stigma, religion, market, environmental and urban concerns, and a political debate around these issues. They have addressed these in multiple ways by negotiating and challenging state policies as well as by documenting their history to claim a place in the history of Muslims in India — a place they have been denied. The colonial period was a critical moment for the Qureshis – economically due to the growing importance of meat and its main by-product leather; politically due to the increased sensitivity of cow slaughter and caste mobility movements. Located within these broad concerns the Qureshis took up the task of documenting their history and wrote five books in Urdu between 1999 and 2002 published from Meerut and Delhi. This project is an attempt to understand the writing of Qureshi history, the content of these books and the larger politics that paved the way for these writings — positing themselves within the frame of democratic politics in India and protecting occupational concerns. Based on vernacular literature, archival material and qualitative interviews, this work studies the emergence of Qureshi identity in India.


Zarin Ahmad is a Delhi-based scholar trained in Political Science and South Asian Studies at the University of Calcutta and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her PhD was on refugees and Tamil and Muslim minorities in Sri Lanka. She has been a New India Foundation Fellow, Research Fellow at the French Centre de Sciences Humaines, New Delhi and the French Institute, Pondicherry and a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Studies in Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi and the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), Delhi. Zarin works at the intersection of urban anthropology and politics and her research interests so far have touched on matters both sacred and profane such as Islamic property laws and the regulation of meat and the working lives of butchers.

2017 (forthcoming), Delhi’s Meatscapes: Muslim Butchers in a Transforming Megacity, New Delhi: Oxford University Press
with Eric Denis, 2017, ‘Paranagipettai: A sleepy locality and a global town: Multiple linkages in the making of an ordinary place’ in: Eric Denis and Marie-Helene Zerah (eds.) Small Town Urbanisation in India, New Delhi: Springer.