Burdened with old cows, farmers speak out against Karnataka’s anti-cattle slaughter law (2023)

Those affected by the legislation include small farmers in rural areas as well as leather workers and people involved in meat export industries, a profession largely occupied by Dalits and Muslims.

Nanjaiah, 53, is known in Sindhuvalli, a village in Mysuru district of Karnataka, as the man to turn to whenever a cow dies. An expert at skinning dead cattle, he occupies an expanse near his home to skin carcasses in the open. Ignoring swarms of hovering flies and the strong stench of rotting meat, Nanjaiah says he can skin cattle in fifteen minutes. "Unless it is a fully grown cow or buffalo. That would take me an hour,” he says. For over two decades, the residents of Sindhuvalli valued Nanjaiah’s work and he considered the earnings to be a useful supplemental income to his daily job as a sweeper with the gram panchayat. "The panchayat members would call me whenever there were dead cows to dispose of in our village," says Nanjaiah.

But in the past year, Nanjaiah has not skinned a single cow after the ruling BJP government in Karnataka enacted The Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act 2020, making it illegal to transport, slaughter, trade all cattle (cows, bulls, oxen) in the state in January 2021. The only exceptions in the act are for buffaloes above the age of 13 and terminally ill cattle. “The calls stopped almost immediately after the Act was passed and I was told to let the dead cows rot in the open wastelands instead of skinning them,” says Nanjaiah.

Burdened with old cows, farmers speak out against Karnataka’s anti-cattle slaughter law (1)
Nanjaiah pictured at his home in Mysuru

Nanjaiah belongs to the ‘jaadumalli’ or sweeper, a Scheduled Caste group, and for generations, his family has been engaged to skin cows, a task that upper castes in the village consider to be ‘impure’. He is among the stakeholders whose livelihood was affected by the Act enacted by the BJP government in Karnataka. Though the law was widely interpreted as a ‘beef ban’, beef is still available in Karnataka since the Act does not restrict the procurement and transport of beef from other states. Those affected by the legislation include small farmers in rural areas as well as leather workers and people involved in meat export industries, a profession largely occupied by Dalits and Muslims.

Unsold cattle at fairs adding to woes

Rama Basavayya, a farmer from T Narasipura in Mysuru, says he has found it difficult to sell his unproductive cows in the past year. He regularly attends the cattle fair in his village, a weekly marketplace to strike deals with traders looking to buy cows. “The business in our fair has reduced considerably. We come here to sell the cattle that are unproductive or sick and are no longer useful in agriculture,” says Rama Basavayya.

There are over 2,000 such cattle fairs taking place across Karnataka, according to JM Veerasangaiah, state Working President, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha. “Once a bull is of no use to the farmer, he has to sell it. Otherwise, the farmer may end up caring for the unproductive bull for 6-7 years, spending money to feed the animal everyday. How can a farmer afford it?” Veerasangaiah asks.

Burdened with old cows, farmers speak out against Karnataka’s anti-cattle slaughter law (2)

Burdened with old cows, farmers speak out against Karnataka’s anti-cattle slaughter law (3)
Weekly cattle fair in T Narasipura, Mysuru

Ravichandra, another farmer from Doddakanya village in Mysuru, agrees with Veerasangaiah’s view. Tending to four cows in his home, he says he spends Rs 600 a day to look after them. “The pragmatic view is to sell the cow after the age of 12. I can’t afford to keep spending on cattle feed and take time out to wash the animal regularly,” says Ravichandra. “We go to the fairs and come back without selling the cow because the prices quoted now are too low,” he adds.

The drop in prices are linked to the changes in market forces since the enactment of the Act, says a Muslim trader who frequents cattle fairs in Mysuru. He says that many traders who buy cows at weekly fairs take them to slaughterhouses and meat shops, forming an economic link that benefits the farmers. “I used to buy cattle and sell or rent them to farmers for agricultural work or sell them to meat shops or slaughterhouses. But now, with the new law in place I’ve stopped trading at the cattle fairs” says the trader who did not wish to be identified. He points to attacks by Hindutva vigilante groups on Muslims transporting or selling cattle as the one of the reasons for staying away from the fairs. “We wanted to continue trading cows for agricultural purposes since it is still allowed. But it is now difficult to trade when there are regular attacks on Muslims who are transporting cows,” he says.

Burdened with old cows, farmers speak out against Karnataka’s anti-cattle slaughter law (4)
Ravichandra picks up a bale of grass at his home in Mysuru

Hindutva groups targeting transporters

Among the instances where Muslim men transporting cattle were attacked last year, the trader picks out two incidents. One of them was from March 2021, a month after the anti cattle slaughter act was passed in Karnataka. Two Muslim drivers - Abdul Rehman and Mohammed Mustafa - from Belthangady in Dakshina Kannada district were assaulted by 25 men including members of the Hindutva group Bajrang Dal even though their vehicle was empty. “We told them to check the vehicle. We had kept the tarpaulin open so that it was visible that there was no cattle in the vehicle but there was no reasoning with them. They shouted Muslims are cattle thieves and attacked us,” says Abdul, recalling the incident. The police arrested six men involved in the attack.

In the other case from January 2021, Abid Ali, a truck driver transporting 12 cows from Ranebennur in Haveri district of Karnataka to Mangaluru, was beaten up by a gang of men enroute. “I had documents saying that the cattle were being transported for agricultural purposes. But I was stopped by a mob of five men and assaulted on the road” says Abid Ali speaking to TNM.

Abid was fortunate to receive help from locals who admitted him in a local hospital. He managed to file a case against his attackers and one of them was arrested by the police. But Abid’s luck did not last as he was arrested by the police for transporting cattle. Over 500 people were booked for cases related to cattle trade in Karnataka in 2020, as per Animal Husbandry Minister Prabhu Chauhan, a number that has shot up from 245 in 2019 to 354 in 2020.

Burdened with old cows, farmers speak out against Karnataka’s anti-cattle slaughter law (5)
Abdul Rehman and Muhammad Mustafa

Activists and experts say that transporting cattle, even for legitimate purposes, is a risk due to self-proclaimed ‘cow protectors’ as the law protects ‘good samaritans’ or persons who act in good faith and inform the police about suspected cattle transport. “On the one hand, they (traders) have paid for the cattle, and on the other hand they stand the risk of losing the cattle with no recourse to justice. Many people have given up even buying cattle because of this specific issue and the farmers are the first to take a hit because of this,” reads a report by researchers Siddarth Joshi and Sylvia Karpagam on the impact of the anti-slaughter law in Karnataka.

Goshalas running on empty

Though the state government planned to reduce the burden on farmers by setting up goshalas in each district in the state, an RTI response from September 2021 says that no state-run goshalas were opened at least in the first nine months of enacting the law. In March 2022, the Karnataka High Court said that it was notsatisfied with the compliance affidavit filed by the state government about establishing goshalas to take care of stray cattle in the state.The state government asked farmers to leave animals at the 188 non-government goshalas functioning in the state. Private goshalas in the state, which take in cattle seized by the police under the new law, say that the assistance they receive from the state government to take care of the additional cows do not cover the costs of maintaining cattle. The state government’s fixed price for managing cattle in goshalas is Rs. 70 per day of which the government provides only Rs. 17.50.

“But we spend over Rs 200 per day to buy grass and cattle feed to maintain one cow,” says Vinod Khabiya, secretary of the Jain community-run Pinjrapole Society which manages a goshala with 4,000 cows in Mysuru. “The number of cattle in our shelter has increased since the Act was passed but the government assistance given to take care of them is not enough,” says Vinod.

The Pinjrapole Society’s goshalas are the biggest ones in Mysuru and cattle seized from across the state are transported here. While one of the goshalas is located in Mysuru city close to Chamundi Hill, the other one is on the outskirts of the city. In 2021, 1073 cattle seized by the police in the state under the new act were transported to the Pinjrapole goshalas in Mysuru. Of these, 673 cattle were seized in the second half of 2021. "We receive cattle seized in far off places like Bengaluru, Mandya, Hassan and Kolar as well as from in and around Mysuru," says Vinod Khabiya.

Burdened with old cows, farmers speak out against Karnataka’s anti-cattle slaughter law (6)
Goshala run by Pinjrapole Society in Mysuru

The goshalas, he says, are run through funds raised by donors but with the increased number of cattle to look after, Vinod says that it is becoming increasingly difficult to meet the costs. "It is the (state) government’s job to take care of the additional cows seized because of the new law but we are doing that job. We cannot continue without raising more funds," he says.

Farmers like Rama Basava and Ravichandra however reiterate that they prefer to sell their cows rather than hand them over to goshalas. “We cannot give away cows for free to shelters. We have to make up at least part of the money we spent buying them,” says Ravichandra. “It will soon become a situation where we are unable to maintain our cows. Is this what those supporting the Act wanted?,” asks Ravichandra.


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