POLITICS

In The Name Of Traceability, The Modi Government Is Killing The Cattle Trade Industry With A Thousand Paper Cuts

It has been made more and more difficult (and yes, dangerous) to be involved in the cattle trade at all.

27/05/2017 12:36 PM IST | Updated 27/05/2017 8:10 PM IST
Anuwar Hazarika / Reuters

There's no doubt Narendra Modi is batting on a strong wicket. A Times Of India survey says his personal popularity is higher now than it was when he was elected to office. Demonetization did not dent it. Instead it seemed yield political dividends in UP. His opposition is fractured and disjointed. "The argumentative public life notwithstanding, the Indian voter has an abiding fascination for strong-willed leaders," writes Swapan Dasgupta who says a BJP leader told him that "Modi is not there to manage India; he is there to change it."

Change could have been with Swachh Bharat. Or a clean Ganga. All of those are projects the Prime Minister is keen on. But it seems the government has decided that real change in a Modi-fied India begins with a cow. The GST reform was sweeping but does not carry the emotional heft of a cow. Demonetization was dramatic but an all-round unpleasant experience even if the PM persuaded the people that it was even more unpleasant for those hoarding black money at home.

Even as the government marks its third anniversary, the environment ministry which could be protecting forests and rivers and wildlife corridors has prohibited the sale or purchase of cattle in livestock markets for "slaughter purpose". Cattle now means not just cows but bulls, bullocks, buffalos and steers. It has been done in the name of curbing cruelty towards animals. At my neighbourhood market chickens are still crammed like sardines into crates or hanging upside down from the handlebars of a bicycle. A skinned goat's carcass hangs from a butcher shop while the next goat in line waits placidly below. But only bovines come into the cruelty radar.

The cow rules will cause hand wringing among liberals and some state governments and the meat exporters and leather manufacturer industries. But it will probably not dent the government's support.


The wording of the directive says little about the real cruelty here (as noted by the People for Animals NGO) which is in the way these animals are transported to the markets. The government has identified the cruelty only in the ultimate fate of the animal. In the name of animal cruelty, the government is clearly shoring up its Hindutva base. But there's something else worth noting as well.

The new regulations specify how even regular cattle sales will happen.

Sellers must provide a signed declaration that the cattle "has not been brought to market for sale for slaughter".

Buyers shall not "sell the animal for the purpose of slaughter".

A market committee must take an undertaking from the buyer that the purpose of bringing the cattle to the market is for agricultural purposes.

The buyer must produce documentation to prove their agriculturist credentials and declare the animal will not be re-sold within six months of the date of purchase.

The declaration will carry the name and address of the owner of the cattle and photo identity proof. There should be details that identify the cattle.

All documentation must be maintained for six months and produced if an inspector demands it.

Narendra Modi had campaigned on the slogan of "minimum government, maximum governance". Who would have thought that the dreaded License Raj would return with a bang on the back of a cow? The BJP government and its supporting ancillary organizations has never been shy about its cow politics. A Ram Temple can only happen in Ayodhya but the environment ministry's cow directive can be enforced all over India. What better way to show who's boss, what better way to remind everyone who is in charge now?

In a way it's not unlike Donald Trump's travel bans. It's not about Muslims he has said. Many Muslims countries are not part of the ban. It's about areas where ISIS is active and pose a danger to the US. It has nothing to do with Islamophobia. But as Trump had let slip before, it was always intended to be a Muslim ban.

Who knew that the crusade for traceability would lead all the way to the cow? What's next? An Aadhaar number for the cows?


Similarly here those who claim that these cattle policies are anti-Muslim or anti-Dalit will face the usual pushback of communalising animal welfare. It's about animal cruelty. It's about illegal slaughterhouses. It's about unregulated markets. Bovine slaughter is not being banned. It's just more paperwork and regulations introduced for "traceability". But really what's being done is to kill the industry by a thousand paper cuts. It is being made more and more difficult (and yes, dangerous) to be involved in that trade at all.

Even before these rules went into effect, 'gau rakshaks' or cow vigilantes lynched those they suspected of being involved in animal trafficking for slaughter. In Alwar, those they attacked tried to show them they had the right papers and receipts. But when you are transporting cows, no paper is the right paper. And these new regulations will only be a shot in the arm for those who are vigilantes in the name of cows. They will feel empowered that the state is backing them with paperwork and regulations.

The cow rules will cause hand wringing among liberals and some state governments and the meat exporters and leather manufacturer industries. But it will probably not dent the government's support. As Sandipan Sharma writes in Firstpost, "Most people are happy not because what Modi did for them, but because of what he did to others — he struck Pakistan, he struck the rich and he struck the VVIPs." And liberals and beef eaters – imagined or real. This is about teaching them a lesson.

The new rules smack of the same sentiment even if the government says it's being done to make "tracing easier". Animals for slaughter can be bought directly from farms which will make tracing easier. Of course, it will also make it easier for gau rakshaks to know which farmer is selling cows for slaughter. There will now be a paper trail to create a hit list.

When Narendra Modi came to power his government made traceability a big goal as part of its promise to clean up corruption in India. We were promised the government would trace black money. They would trace those who were evading the tax laws. The citizens were told, in the interest of traceability, to link their bank accounts to Aadhar cards. In an effort to plug misuse, the government demanded that Aadhar cards be produced for poor children to access mid-day meals.

Traceability would be the answer to turning India into Singapore.

Who knew that the crusade for traceability would lead all the way to the cow? What's next? An Aadhaar number for the cows?

If the environment ministry truly cared more about cruelty against cows, its first focus would have been to save them from grisly deaths from eating plastic. But instead we are more worried about who might eat the cow than what the cow might eat.

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