INDIA is one of the largest meat producers and meat exporters of the world. The most populous state of the country, Uttar Pradesh, is responsible for about 60 percent of this trade. In the last two years, due to the vigilantism of ‘cow protection groups’ and the fear they generated, the trade, farming communities and the tannery industry have all been adversely affected.
With the accession to power of Yogi Adityanath, the new BJP chief minister, all three – the meat trade, farming communities and the tannery industry – are facing an attack that is threatening their very existence.
Those in power, their supporters and sections of the media have tried to pass this attack off as a step taken against ‘illegal’ abattoirs and unlicensed meat shops. The reality is very different. There are 44 abattoirs in the state of which 27 have been closed down. Every one of these closed abattoirs is owned, managed and run by municipal corporations and town area committees which, in turn, receive funds from the state government in order to execute their responsibilities. In 2013, the Supreme Court, in its response to a writ requesting closure of all abattoirs, had given very clear instructions to the state that steps should be taken to improve the working and the infrastructure of the abattoirs to bring them into conformity with established norms. The state government had made some provision for this recently. By closing the abattoirs down, the new government is punishing thousands of people involved in the meat trade for no fault of theirs. In fact they are being punished by the government for its own acts of omission and commission.
Similarly, the licenses for meat-selling shops are issued and renewed by the municipal corporations and town area committees. In many major cities like Kanpur (one of the biggest centres of both the meat and leather trades), Lucknow, Allahabad, Meerut etc, these are controlled by the BJP. Many meat sellers’ licenses have not been renewed for the past one year despite their best efforts and, on March 31 of this year, the period of all valid licenses has also come to an end. As a result, meat sellers are caught in a bind. Practicing their form of livelihood has been rendered ‘illegal’. In just the city of Kanpur, there are more than 500 meat shops. At least four-five families are dependent on each shop for their survival. Each abattoir provides employment to dozens of loaders, rickshaw-pullers and clerks. While most of the butchers and meat sellers are Muslims, a large proportion of those engaged in other associated work are dalits. There is also one section of butchers and meat sellers who belong exclusively to the Khatik community, a dalit sub-caste. They have been rendered unemployed because the abattoirs in which pigs were slaughtered have also been closed. In Kanpur, for example, there are between 40-50 shops selling pork.
The closure of the abattoirs by the state government and the statements made by various representatives of the Sangh Parivar that deliberately interpret beef to include cow-meat and viciously attack members of the minority community has encouraged several incidents of lawlessness and violence in many parts of the state. In Hathras, immediately after the new government took over, three shops selling chicken were burnt in the middle of the night. In Kasganj, policemen, behaving like vigilantes, barged into the wedding ceremonies of a Muslim family and ordered them to desist from serving meat. In Kushinagar, the police raided a Muslim home on the pretext of recovering cow-meat and, despite the fact that none was found, beat up many in the neighbourhood. A similar incident has been reported from Moradabad. In Kanpur, at least three incidents of ‘gau rakshaks’ stopping vehicles transporting buffaloes to export units in Unnao, have been reported. While the animals were let loose (or taken away), the people on the vehicles were taken to the police stations, abused and threatened and, in two cases, let off only after hefty bribes were paid.
The fear that such incidents and threats have created has led to the sale and transport of livestock coming to a grinding halt all over the state.
In every district of the state, weekly bazaars where buffaloes are bought and sold are held in several areas. In each of these bazaars between 500 and 1000 animals are sold by neighbouring farmers to butchers. For example, in Gulaoti village of Bulandshahar, between 800-1500 buffaloes are sold every week. Farmers all over the state buy buffaloes for milk-production. Because they know that they can sell the buffaloes for their meat once they stop producing milk, this is a profitable venture for them. For the last two weeks, however, the fact that no one is prepared to buy their buffaloes because of the risks inherent in transporting them and also in selling their meat has meant that the entire economy of small farmers, already greatly troubled by drought, the vagaries of the weather and the uneconomic prices that their products are fetching, is under great threat. This also means that they will be discouraged from buying milch buffaloes in the future and the entire dairying industry in the state will be gravely threatened.
The extremely successful and profitable meat export industry is also being impacted. Since supplies of buffaloes for meat production have dried up, their operations are also grinding to a standstill. While they had expected to benefit from the fact that buffalo prices have come down considerably due to the closure of abattoirs and shops, they are in fact reeling from the lack of supplies altogether.
The huge availability of animal skins in the state has been an important fact in the growth and development of the leather industry which has gone from the production of semi-finished hides, to finished hides, saddler, shoes, garments and furniture. Both the export and domestic markets have expanded considerably. Today, the drying up of supplies of hides has led to not only price increases of between 12 and 15 percent but to closures and lay-offs because of complete uncertainty with regard to their availability.
The 203 small tanneries of Kanpur are all on the verge of closure. They employ between 100 and 500 workers, more than 75 percent of whom are dalits. The 100 large tanneries are working but they have also laid off large numbers of workers, also mostly dalits.
While all this has meant huge revenue losses for the state, tremendous losses of profit and income for owners of tanneries, export houses and shops, it has also meant incalculable burdens for an already crisis-hit peasantry and enormous job losses for the poorest sections of society in a situation where there are just no jobs available.
Interview with A…, a dealer in raw hides from Kanpur.
A year ago, he would get three-four trucks of hides (1500 pcs each) a month. Now that is reduced to about one truck in two or three months. Hides come from Saharanpur, Meerut, Aligarh, Malegaon, Delhi, Pune, Mumbai, Hapur, Eastern area–Nanpara. Earlier the hides would be supplied directly but now he has to travel to different places to access the hides. The profit of Rs 30-50 on each hide has come down to about Rs 5-10. There would be about 2000 traders like him in Kanpur who were making Rs 30-40,000 per month profit which came down to about Rs 10,000. Each trader had about four-five workers who would salt the hides. Half of them were dalits. Now he employs labour only when he has work. Loaders, drivers etc found work in hundreds. Since the new government took over, the situation is much worse. Now no animals or hides are coming at all. Vehicles are attacked and looted on the way. Many traders are now changing professions. Some are making dog biscuits. Workers who earned between Rs 300-500 per day have returned to their villagers. He and others like him used to supply hides to the tanneries. Now many are closed. The skins of slaughtered animals from the abattoir would also go to the tanneries.
Interview with P D Khatik: He has a licensed shop for selling pork. There are about 40-50 such shops. His community is being discouraged form pork consumption for the last two years. For 10 days, the Kamela for slaughtering pigs is closed. His shop is closed. Around 200 people are in a similar situation and about 100 odd workers.
Interview with F, a small exporter of leather goods in Unnao:
He has a shoe-upper manufacturing unit which is an ancillary for a big export house. He can make 800 pairs per day for which more than 100 workers are required but for the last six months he is making less than 50 pairs. So he is able to employ 7-10 workers per day. 95 percent of them are dalits.
He has been trading in raw buff hides also which he purchases from the mandi in Jabalpur, MP, but, due to the dangers involved in transporting, he has stopped this. The goods on one truck cost, on an average, 20 lakhs.
The hypocrisy of the state government stands thoroughly exposed by the fact that on April 1, the police recovered 38 carcasses of cows buried in the ground and rescued more than a dozen cows and calves in bad physical condition from the farmhouse of an additional CMO, JN Misra, in Bahraich district. This horrifying news found place in a few newspapers but was not flashed on the TV screens or repeated ad nauseam by them. In the following days, nothing more was said about this horrifying discovery. If the farmhouse had belonged to a member of the minority community, all hell would have broken loose and the news would have been repeated in the print and electronic media for days together.
CPI(M) state secretary Hiralal Yadav, state leaders Dinanath, Premnath Rai, Brijlal Bharati and Subhashini Ali, Polit Bureau member, handed over a memorandum on these issues to the special secretary to the chief minister on April 4 demanding that all necessary steps be taken by the government to bring all abattoirs in the state to the standards set down by the Supreme Court and that slaughtering be resumed in the mean time; that all applications for renewal of licenses for meat shops be processed at the earliest; that strict action be taken against vigilante groups of so-called ‘gau rakshaks’ and that the police and administration be instructed to give protection to all legitimate transport of animals and to all those who are facing threat and intimidation.