Nearly a month ago, 87 camels undertook a dreadful and painful journey from Rajasthan to Ranga Reddy district in Telangana. Without proper food and water, injured and with bleeding wounds, they walked 1,372 kms to reach slaughter houses in Telangana.
Rescued by People for Animals (PFA) Hyderabad, an animal rights NGO, they are now on their way back to Rajasthan, but their smuggling and rescue reveals the story of illegal camel slaughter and the flourishing camel meat market in India.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India does not notify camel as meat or as a meat-food-product. Thus, in India there are no slaughter houses equipped to handle an animal as large as camel.
This means that across the country, camels are slaughtered in the open, with inadequate equipment, in the most brutal and horrific ways. Unable to slaughter them completely, butchers often leave them to die slow, painful deaths.
In 2014, the government of Rajasthan declared the camel its state animal. The decision was aimed at checking the dwindling number of camels in the state.
Raika, the traditional camel-rearing community in Rajasthan, is losing its livelihood due to a cap on selling camel milk and camel products in Indian market. As a result of increased middle-eastern influence on food and culture, there is an increasing demand for camels for sacrifice and camel meat delicacies during Ramzan.
Desperate for money, the Raikas sell their livestock to smugglers in camel fairs across Rajasthan.
Most of these camels are smuggled to states like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, or sent to Bangladesh for slaughter. Camel meat sold illegally in the Indian market can fetch anything between Rs 250 to Rs 450 per kg.
For this, camels are made to walk more than a thousand kilometres, in adverse climatic conditions, to reach the markets where they can be slaughtered.
Camels possess a cushion-like pad on their hooves that connects its toes. It spreads when they place their foot on soft sand, so that they can walk. On tar and concrete roads they hurt themselves every time they walk ahead. Camels always sit with a thud, and on a hard surface they end up injuring their knees and bellies. This continues for two to three months as they walk from Rajasthan to southern states.Reethi Bharadwaj, PFA Hyderabad
The ban on camel slaughter has done little to stop the killing of camels thousands of kilometres in the south. So what is the solution to the problem?
Conservationist and author of the book Camel Karma Ilse Kohler believes that legalising camel slaughter can put a check on gruesome killings, smuggling and abuse of camels in India. However, animal rights lawyer and India director of Humane Society International, Jayasimha Geethaprabhu offers a more humane solution.
Due to climatic conditions the population of camels in India can never be like in the gulf or the middle east, the countries where camel meat is notified as a food product. Creating a market for camel milk, camel milk products and camel hair carpets can incentivise communities like Raika to rear camels and not distress sell them in the meat market. Its a tedious process but this way we end up saving both the animal and its traditional caretakers.Jayasimha Geethaprabhu, Animal Rights Lawyer