While incidents of violence purported by cow vigilantes hit the headlines, what has gone relatively unnoticed is an ever increasing spate of attacks on animal rights activists who dared to take on the smugglers of cattle and other animals.
Some of these activists, whom The Sunday Guardian interviewed, said there is little organised resistance to the illegal trade of meat, as vigilance at the sale points and at the highways remains lax. The activists added there is little intervention from the police, and the government and the administration have failed to chalk up any effective strategy to curb illegal slaughter of cows and illegal export of meat, despite talking tough on the subject.
“It is a racket worth hundreds of crores, working all the way from Rajasthan to Kishanganj in Bihar and West Bengal, from where beef and other meat are exported illegally to Arab countries and to Bangladesh. Sometimes, live animals are transported to Bangladesh, clearly revealing the connivance of some elements in the state administration. It is a huge source of generating black money, as transactions are in black. One can imagine the scale of money involved, as a camel, which can be purchased for Rs 10,000 in Rajasthan is sold anywhere between Rs 1-1.5 lakh in Bangladesh,” Sudarshan, a memeber of Dhyan Foundation, an animal rights organisation, told this reporter.
Another activist, Sourav Gupta added: “Ghaziabad, Amroha, Saharanpur, Meerut and Baghpat are the places in Uttar Pradesh from where the racket works.” Alluding to the administration’s negligence, Gupta said that although the Rajasthan government has enlisted the camel as an endangered species and there is a law that stipulates that camels can be purchased only for the purpose of farming, hundreds of camels are purchased at the state’s fairs by meat exporters openly.
“95% of the camels being sold (in Rajasthan’s fairs) are taken by people from Uttar Pradesh, especially people from Baghpat, for the purpose of slaughter as it is obvious that a camel, whose natural habitat is Rajasthan, cannot be of any use for farming in UP,” Gupta told this newspaper.
According to Sudarshan, cows and camels are bought from Rajasthan and taken to Mewat in Haryana, where the animals are slaughtered, and then illegally supplied to one Jagdish Cold Storage in New Delhi. “We caught Jagdish Cold Storage red handed when cow and camel meat were being illegally taken to this storage at night. Two people who were nabbed confessed that they got the animals from Rajasthan and slaughtered them in Haryana. We lodged a formal complaint and the animal husbandry department’s investigation confirmed that the meat retrieved from an adjacent cold storage, Darshan Cold Storage, was that of cow. They export this to the Arab countries,” Sudharshan said.
But the activism comes at a cost. On 18 March, the cattle mafia attacked some activists in Panipat at night. The goons were transporting cattle in a number-plate less vehicle and when the activists tried to stop the vehicle and called the police, they opened fire at them, injuring a few gravely.
Gupta, who was instrumental in getting three slaughterhouses in New Delhi sealed, is also facing threat to his life. “We got a tip off that animals had been transported illegally to an illegal slaughterhouse at Masuri in Ghaziabad. I raided the place along with the police at 2 am and saved 13 camels. We got three illegal slaughterhouses—Darshan Cold Storage, Sushil Cold Storage and Jagdish Cold Storage—on Lawrence Road, Delhi sealed in February, as they were selling beef illegally. Since then, the threat is mounting. We were provided security by the Delhi police after it got inputs that there is threat to our lives,” Gupta said.
He provided a copy of the relevant FIR 0085 dated 25 January to this newspaper.
But not all are lucky to get security cover. In Tumkur in Karnataka, a lady activist and Animal Welfare Board of India officer was attacked by cattle traffickers, who were illegally transporting cattle from Holenarsipura to Bangalore at Kunigal PS Limits on 7 December last year (FIR no 442/2016, a copy of which is available with this newspaper). Recounting her ordeal, the activist, Joshine Antony told the police, as recorded in the FIR, that “(cattle is being transported in) vehicle no KA51A 3217 from Holenarsipura to Bangalore which is passing through the Hasan-Bangalore Highway everyday. Today (7 December 2016) around 3am we spotted this vehicle… But before the police team could reach, a group of people led by Ali Madat came in two vehicles hurling abuses and threats. They started throwing stones and logs on our vehicle…”
Similarly, in August last year, Kavita Jain, a woman activist who was voicing concern over illegal slaughter of cattle, was attacked near Navyuga toll in Nelamangala, Karnataka by the goons of a cattle mafia (FIR no 93/2016, a copy of which is available with this newspaper). Kavita along with her colleagues was attacked, abused and intimidated. The mafia’s men hurled sharp objects at her and threatened her of dire consequences if she meddled in their business again.
In June last year, animal activist Amit lost one of his fingers when he was shot at by cattle smugglers at a point blank range in Gurugram Police Station Limits. It is suspected that Mewatis were behind the incident.
In yet another incident, a 60-year-old animal activist Nitasha Jaini was roughed up by goons of the camel smuggling mafia, outside the Patna High Court, where she had gone for a hearing related to the 61 camels that were seized at the Bangladesh border near Kishanganj in November 2016 in a joint operation by BSF and her animal rights organisation. Talking to The Sunday Guardian, Jaini said: “Outside the court, I was roughed up by a group of men while I was explaining to a snake charmer that his business was illegal. A group of men, who had been following me, started abusing me and thrashing me and the entire episode was orchestrated by the meat mafia, which wanted to avenge itself.”
Jaini said Kishanganj, located a few kilometres from Bangladesh at certain points, is a haven for smugglers because of the unfenced border. “The smuggling flourishes with the knowledge of the officials despite the fact that the Bihar Animal Act, 1965 prohibits the going out of any cows from the state,” she alleged.