Is Our Survival More Important, Or Cattle’s, Asks Farmer About Beef Ban
(Agencies) A ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter in India’s richest state is threatening to push millions of farmers into penury, deepening distress in the countryside and fanning some resentment against the policies of the ruling BJP.
A ban on the slaughter of cows, considered sacred by Hindus, has historically been banned in most states but was not vigorously imposed. Over the past year, states governed by the BJP, such as Maharashtra, have broadened the ban to include other types of cattle, like bulls and bullocks, and Hindu vigilantes have stepped up attacks on traders to enforce the prohibition.
India is the world’s largest exporter of beef.
The impact of the beef ban has been significant. Prices of cattle have fallen across the country, India’s meat exports fell 13 percent in the April-December period and rival beef supplier Brazil is gaining from India’s loss.
It has also left millions of farmers, already reeling from bad harvests due to back-to-back droughts and unseasonal rains, struggling to sell animals they can no longer feed or water.
“I wonder what the government wants – our survival or the cattle’s?” said farmer Revaji Choudhary, standing next to a pair of bulls he has been trying to sell for weeks in a cattle market in Maharashtra.
He paid Rs. 40,000 for his pair of bulls a year ago, and is willing to sell them for half that now. He still cannot find a buyer.
Traditionally, farmers have sold cattle in a drought year to butchers, mostly Muslims, and bought new ones when their earnings rise after monsoon showers.
That cycle has been broken and could leave farmers with little money to buy seeds or fertiliser ahead of the next sowing season, starting in June. Farmer suicides have nearly doubled in the drought-hit Marathwada region of Maharashtra.
Their predicament is causing concern within the BJP.
Rural distress is considered by some as a contributing factor to the party’s loss in the Bihar election last year.
In the annual budget last month, the government pledged nearly $13 billion on rural development, aiming to double farmer’s incomes by 2022.
Maharashtra BJP legislator Bhimrao Dhonde said the government’s priority should be to support farmers, and they should be allowed to sell their cattle to whomever they want.
“It is time to withdraw the ban,” Mr Dhonde told reporters, according to news agency Reuters.
Madhu Chavan, a spokesman for the BJP in Maharashtra, said Mr Dhonde’s view did not reflect that of the party.
“The party thinks the ban is necessary,” he said, adding that more money would be made available to alleviate the effects of drought if needed.
Many farmers are simply abandoning their cattle.
The state has opened hundreds of temporary shelters to house around 250,000 heads of cattle until their owners are ready to take them back, but experts say at least another 4 million animals need to be looked after in Maharashtra.
Hindu groups such as the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) that had promised to build shelters said they, too, were short on cash and the government should do more.
Laxmi Narayan Chandak, head of the Maharashtra unit of VHP’s cow protection committee, said his organisation has been able to start only one facility that holds 150 cattle.
“Nearly 700,000 cows and bulls … will starve to death or will be smuggled to slaughter houses. We have to save them,” said Mr Chandak.