India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended a government ban on the trade of cattle for slaughter.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government in May decreed that markets could only trade cattle for agricultural purposes, such as plowing and dairy production, on the grounds of stopping cruelty to animals.

The slaughter of cows, considered holy in Hinduism, were banned in most parts of India, but Hindu hardliners and cow vigilante groups have since increasingly declaring themselves since Modi’s government came to power in 2014.

Muslims, who make up 14 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion people, said that the May government decree against the beef and leather industry employing millions of workers was aimed at marginalising them.

The Supreme Court, in issuing its decision, stressed the hardship that the ban on the trade of cattle for slaughter had imposed.

“The livelihood of people should not be affected by this,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Jagdish Khehar said in his ruling.

India’s meat and leather industries are worth more than 16 billion dollars in annual sales.

“After the decision, the government told the court it would modify and reissue its May order,’’ Additional Solicitor-General P.S. Narasimha said.

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The issue has become highly emotive with a wave of attacks on Muslims suspected of either storing meat or transporting cattle for slaughter.

An estimated 28 people have been killed in cow-related violence since 2010.

At the ending of June, after months of silence on the violence, Modi condemned lynchings.

Media has reported that at least two cases of attacks on Muslims since Modi spoke out.

Abdul Qureshi, Head of the Muslim All India Jamiatul Quresh Action Committee which supports the meat sellers, welcomed the court decision.

“We have to restore the confidence of cattle traders that they can resume their business.

“It’ a victory for us,” Qureshi, who had lodged a petition with the Supreme Court against the government ban said. (NAN)