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Interestingly, this is not the first time that Aavin’s halal certification has come under attack. There was a similar social media campaign against the state-run co-in 2020 when the AIADMK was in power.

Right-wing social media handles have in the past spread misinformation several times about food products carrying a halal certification. The latest attempt now is against Aavin, a dairy co-operative that comes under the Tamil Nadu Cooperative Milk Producers Federation Limited, and therefore under the jurisdiction of the state government. WhatsApp forwards are being circulated with an image highlighting the halal certification given to Aavin’s cooking butter on a package meant for export, insinuating that the state government was favouring a Muslim belief system and was “no longer secular”.

The controversy has also spread to Twitter. Handles, including those run by members of the Hindu Munnani Katchi, are alleging that the state government is favouring Muslims. Interestingly, this is not the first time that Aavin’s halal certification has come under attack. A similar social media campaign against the state-run co-op occurred in 2020 when the AIADMK was in power. The posts and forwards claimed that it will not be possible for Hindus to use products like ghee or butter, in temples, due to the halal certification. Though many, including the managing director of Aavin, have pointed out that the certification is meant only for packages intended for export, the divisive posts continue to spread.

In a statement issued on September 18 condemning the posts, the Tamil Nadu Milk Producers’ Association had called for an immediate clampdown on the rumours and those spreading it. The statement also says, “We request everyone not to believe everything they say, and be aware that there are those trying to misuse social media and destroy the peace between people living in harmony.” The statement further pointed out that not only Aavin but the “Gujarat-based Amul co-op in the BJP-ruled state and even Patanjali owned by the godman Ramdev carry halal certification on products meant for export to Muslim countries.”

What does halal really mean?

There is widespread misunderstanding of what the term ‘halal’ means. For products like cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, health products and toiletries, a halal certification simply clarifies that the item does not contain pig fat. It also means that the product is safe and unadulterated.

The misunderstanding is being used in divisive posts, such as in this instance, to imply that a food item with halal certification is ‘unfit’ for Hindu consumption.

According to Halal Certification Hyderabad, a certification body, the halal certification is assurance that a product does not contain anything related to pigs, boars and dogs, as the items are considered haram or ‘unlawful’ under the Sharia law. Other animals that are considered haram include mules, donkeys and clawed predators like eagles and vultures.

Export food items to Muslim countries require a halal certificate. 

A trend of anti-Muslim fake news and food hoaxes

Aavin is only the latest in a long line of communalising of food and other products. In April this year, ayurvedic medicine company Himalaya, whose owner is incidentally Muslim, came under fire for its halal certification. Campaigns on social media called for a boycott of the company.

At the time, speaking to TNM a manufacturer from Kerala’s Kozhikode had pointed out that “in some countries, halal is compulsory; but in a majority of other countries, the demand from the public for halal products is increasing, though it’s not compulsory for export. That is how the halal market is on a boom. In fact, we cannot keep away from it. Many countries are already making use of the trend.”

Food hoaxes have become a subgenre of anti-Muslim fake news across the country. From alleging that Muslims were spitting into food to claims that biriyani stalls in Tamil Nadu were lacing the food with infertility causing pills, the instances of divisive statements against Muslim-owned bussinesses and calls to economically boycott them are many.

The News Minute 23rd Sep 2022