Panaji: Carmen Athaide, 49, slices a few slivers of beef into a broth that's just beginning to simmer on her old kitchen stove. As the soup comes to a boil, the warm, wholesome aroma cuts through the predominant, sharp smell of vinegar-based red-chilli masala, commonly used in Christian homes in the former Portuguese colony.
That's the first beef soup, Carmen, a housewife from Anjuna village, 20 km north of Panaji, has cooked for two weeks now.
Beef, whose sale has been banned in neighbouring BJP-ruled Maharashtra, is slowly making the journey back to the plate in Goa, also ruled by the BJP, after the politically touchy red-meat went off the grid for a bit, leaving the state's large meat-eating population angry and deprived.
Since last week, beef is being sold through a network of 65 private cold storages. And the state government's decision to purchase meat and sell it through the cold storage chain may have just forced the beef traders to once again open their establishments that they had shut following alleged threats from a right-wing Hindu group.
"We were always willing to sell beef, but procuring it has been a problem. We will now try to get live cattle from Karnataka and Maharashtra and slaughter them here, but we need some kind of protection from the police because these NGOs are harassing us," Munna Bepari, the spokesperson of the All Goa Meat Traders Association, said.
While the opposition and Christian groups in the state blamed animal rights groups, Hindu religious NGOs and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government for the beef crisis, the saffron party, which has also banned the sale of beef in Haryana, put through its novel initiative to return the red meat to several thousand dinner tables in Goa. "We in Goa are used to fresh beef. This was frozen beef which I bought from the cold storage. It doesn't taste that great, but something is better than nothing," Athaide said.
Beef supply in Goa has been erratic ever since the Akhil Vishwa Jai Shrirama Gosanvardhan Kendra, an NGO that backed a ban on cattle slaughter, in 2013 petitioned the Bombay High Court bench in Panaji for a ban on cattle slaughter, citing atrocities on cattle being brought to the Goa Meat Complex (GMC), the state's only abattoir operated by a government corporation.
Then chief minister Manohar Parrikar was an advisor to the Kendra, a post he relinquished a month before the petition was filed. The high court, in its subsequent order, said that the slaughter in future would be overseen by officials and a representative of the NGO at the abattoir.
Beef traders in Goa claim that Kendra representatives had been harassing them and refusing to allow slaughter of any cattle at the abattoir, as a result of which they were forced to down shutters.
According to GMC chairman Lyndon Monteiro, beef traders, several of whom were part of an interstate illegal beef mafia, were holding the state to ransom and creating an artificial crisis. "After negotiations with the beef traders failed, the GMC took the initiative of buying beef from neighbouring states and selling it in Goa through private cold storage chains. Goa consumes about 30 to 50 tonnes of beef every day. We plan to expand the delivery chain in order to meet the requirement," Monteiro said.
Beef is normally consumed in the form of stews, curries, roasts and soups and is an essential protein - and one of the cheapest meats - in most Christian homes in Goa. Beef is also commonly consumed in the tourism-oriented coastal belt that annually sees nearly three million tourists, half a million of them foreigners.
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