Holy Cow, Unholy Fate

The recent ban on the sale of beef by the BJP-ruled states and the demand of several right-wing groups for the extension of the ban across India has sounded an alarm for cattle-owners, traders and millions of consumers. Attacks on individuals, labelled as ‘beef eaters’, has further added to the hysteria.

Dealers and consumers from across the country have serious concern over the ban on the slaughter of certain categories of cattle that were earlier permitted - the aged and infirm, calves, and male cattle. “Banning slaughter of beef directly affects our livelihood. How do the supporters of the beef ban expect us to pay for the upkeep of such a large cattle when we cannot sell meat?,” said Rakib Hussain, a meat-seller in South Delhi.

Beef exports from India, which is generally confused with cow-meat, is actually carabeef or buffalo meat. Carabeef, Basmati rice, wheat and several varieties of rice are major items exported from India annually.

The impact of the call for the ban can be gauged by the ongoing turbulence in international markets, where the cost competitiveness of Indian beef in relation to Brazil and other top exporters has gone down. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2014, India precedes Brazil and Australia in the export of carabeef. The fact is, India is set to lose its status of the largest exporter - the position it dislodged Brazil from only last year. Exports of India’s animal products in the year 2014-15 fetched Rs.33,128 crores, out of which Rs.29,282 crore was carabeef.

“Beef exports generate revenue of over Rs 29,000 crores and banning it would be a big setback for the economy which no government no matter what their political affiliation could afford”, said a senior official of Agricultural and Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA). The nation presently records a large cattle population, which has increased from 111.09 million in 2007 to 118.59 million in 2012, i.e., an increase of 6.75 per cent, as per 2012 Livestock Census. In such a scenario, cattle owners are left with three options -- either abandon their cattle, sell them illegally or send them to cow protection centres (the gaushalas). India has roughly 80 million old and unproductive cattle, and there has been a record increase in the number of cattle deaths recently. Most farmers, who would earlier sell the old cattle to slaughterhouses, are now forced to abandon them. “Out of the many hundreds of cows we have, more than 400 were abandoned and have been brought from streets in the past six months only,” said the owner of a ‘gaushala’ in outer Delhi’s Bawana.

Many  cow-shelters in and around Delhi are taking care of aged and diseased cows, but a larger portion of abandoned cattle still remain unprotected. Even the shelter owners refuse to take in cows that are seriously ill and prefer that the owner looks after it, a fact confirmed by the owner of Shri Krishna Gaushala, which claims to serve about 7,000 cows, the largest in the NCR.

The abandoned cattle may create a crisis of sorts, considering that millions of hectares would be required to feed them. In villages, with standing crops, these cattle end up straying into the fields, creating trouble for farmers. While hundreds of cattle die on streets for want of proper care, a large section of the society, which fed on them due to unaffordable prices of vegetables and pulses, now have been deprived of their biggest source of protein. For them, the meat from cow-shelters sold clandestinely in shops is the only option for survival. “The cheapest source of protein we can afford is meat of dead-cattle that we get secretly from specific sellers somehow connected to cow-shelters,” said a 28-year-old man, resident of South Delhi’s Okhla area. The vicious cycle further continues as those in the lower hierarchy of the chain sell off leather to undercover business mafias or illegal traders who in turn reap huge benefits from foreign buyers.

The New Delhi Municipal Corporation has taken charge of the disposal and burial of dead cattle coming from the cow shelters. The shelter owners though are unaware of the cremation process with most of them suspecting if the cremation even takes place or not. “No ‘gaushalas’ and other animal care centres are allowed to dispose bodies of dead cattle, they are supposed to contact the NDMC for the purpose,” said an NDMC official.

Maariyah Siddique

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 April 2016 on page no. 2

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