Time: 7 am
On the National Highway-24, which runs from Delhi to Bareli, there is a thin road to the left around 6 km before Garhmukteshwar. As soon as you turn it to, you can hear the noise of animals and smell their dung. Due to light rain, the concrete pavement road has been covered with mud and cow dung.
Welcome to the Village of Athsaini in Hapur District
At Afsal Ali's 13.6-acre land in Athsaini, an animal market is organised under the shade of mango trees. For the last sixty years, people have brought thousands of cattle to buy and sell in this market. But nowadays, there is a sense of fear and confusion.
The conditions are the same across India, but in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, it is more visible.
Fear of Government and Police
It is unusual for a journalist to come to the market with a mobile-camera and mic and not arouse suspicion. They are doubtful whether we are from the government or the police. Most people were not ready to tell us their names and addresses.
Afsal Ali, who also holds the license to run the market, called a local journalist to verify our identity cards. The horror created by the violence of the gau rakshaks have the people on edge. After many attempts, they were finally ready to talk to us.
Zakir (he did not tell us his full name despite several attempts), had travelled 35 kms to sell his 4-year-old milking buffalo. He wants Rs 55,000 for it. Zakir wants to marry off his daughter in the coming winter and he is forced to sell the buffalo even though it provides milk.
“It is difficult to bring buffaloes to the the market. The owners are scared of the Bajrang Dal, who may accuse them of selling cow meat and snatch the animals. They are also scared of the police who take a bribe of Rs 1,000 for every animal going on sale,” he said.
The cattle-owners are so scared that Zakir is ready to sell his buffalo at any rate instead of having to take it back. This has led to a 40-50 percent decline in the rate of the animals which is directly affecting the livelihood of cattle-owners and farmers.
Cows Missing From Cattle Markets
Since March, cows, bulls and calves are completely missing in this market. The reason for this is the coronation of the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh and the consequent change in the state’s political atmosphere.
There were already legal restrictions on selling cows for meat in many states including UP. But there was no restriction on the purchase and sale of milking cow, young bulls and calves. However, since the change of power in UP, violent incidents involving gau rakshaks have increased rapidly and the cows have disappeared from the cattle markets.
Prempal Singh, who came from Singraati village, 20 kms from Athsaini, has also come to the market to sell his milking buffalo. He said:
Apart from buffaloes, I have five cows and two calves. What will I do with them? We get loans also in the name of animals and now they are not being sold. Even if you go to sell milk cattle, the gau rakshaks take it away.
Bad Drop in Animal Business
This fear of gau rakshaks snatching animals on the way has greatly reduced livestock trade in markets.
Afzal’s brother Iqbal says, “Earlier, around 1,500 to 2,000 cattle-owners used to come here, which has now reduced to 400-500. Besides, if there is any news related to animals in the media, the market is closed.”
The decreased footfall in the market has also affected shops that sell cloth, food-drinks, and rope and other animal accessories in the market.
Twenty-seven-year-old Nadeem, who came to Sayaana village, 25 km from Athsaini, says, "If the animals do not sell, then how will our goods sell? Earlier we used to earn four-five thousand rupees, which has now become one or two thousand."
Trouble Will Grow Further
Recently, Director General of Police of UP Sulkhan Singh ordered that people caught smuggling or killing cows be booked under the National Security Act (NSA).
On 23 May, the Central Government issued a notification and banned the sale of cattle for their meat in the cattle market. The new law also includes buffaloes and camels along with cows. Though the Madras High Court has put a stay on the notification, there is a fear of violence from the police and anti-social elements.
The Great Crisis of Rural Economy
According to an estimate, 70 percent of the livestock is owned by small, marginal farmers and landless labourers. These people will suffer big losses due to the restrictions on the sale of livestock.
Clearly, the new rules and environment of fear will drastically affect the the meat industry, and will also make the roots of the Indian economy hollow.
(This story was originally published in Quint Hindi.)