Karnataka’s Anti-Cow Slaughter Law: A Cattle Market Pays the Price
The weekly market near Mysuru was sought-after by farmers from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala for livestock trade.
It’s a nippy Thursday morning – and the weekly Terakanambi market in Gundlupet taluk in Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar district is abuzz with activity.
Vegetables, fruits, pulses and jaggery among other such items are piled in large heaps and are being aggressively peddled by hopeful farmers who have begun coming to the market as early as 6 am.
The cattle market, a 12-km drive away from Gundlupet town near Mysore, opens on Thursdays. Strategically located about 20 km from the neighbouring states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Terakanambi is sought after by farmers in all three states for the livestock trade.
The indigenous Hallikar bulls and the high-yielding milch cows of Holstein Friesian breed, popularly known as the Jersey cows, are brought here by farmers to be traded for a fair price.
These days, however, the market wears a sombre look.
Amid a steady stream of news on the massive farmers’ protest from the borders of Delhi against the three farm laws is the new anti-cow slaughter law in the state, which has left the farmers wary of their future.
The BJP-led government in Karnataka passed the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill 2020 in the Assembly on 9 December 2020. The law came to effect on 18 January 2021. The law prohibits all forms of cattle slaughter and proposes stringent punishment for offenders.
On 9 February, the Karnataka Legislative Council, too, passed the Bill by a voice vote, amid protests from the Congress. The Janata Dal (Secular), which has been silent on the cattle bill, is believed to have supported its passing in the Upper House.
Abandoned Stalls of Cattle Trade
The livestock section of the Terakanambi market is segregated into two with one exclusively for buyers, mostly from neighbouring states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, to pick the cattle for meat. That area is now empty.
Policemen in plain clothes walk around. An outsider is looked with suspicion. “Who are you? Why are you here?” We are asked and made notes of.
Farmers say that buyers from neighbouring states with high meat consumption have stopped coming to the market.
“Cow slaughter rarely happens here in the village. We don’t even have people to slaughter them in our villages. What will we do with old cattle? If the cow is injured, who will care for it? If a man breaks his limb, we can take him to a hospital and help him recuperate, but what about a cow?” asks Mahesh who bought two bulls for Rs 63,000.
The 2020 Bill that was passed in the Assembly in December is a revised version of a law passed by the BJP when it was in power in 2010. It was shelved in 2013 by the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government who reverted to the less-stringent Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Preservation of Animals Act, 1964.
Though this Act too banned the killing of any cow or calf or she-buffalo, it allowed the slaughter of bullock, buffalo-male or female if it was certified by a competent authority to be above the age of 12 years, was incapacitated for breeding or was deemed sick. No such exemptions exist in the current law.
Violators stand to attract three to seven years of imprisonment. While a penalty between Rs 50,000 and Rs 5 lakh can be levied for the first offence, second and subsequent offences can attract penalties ranging between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 10 lakh.
The Unaffordable Price to Pay
The heat, the dust and the din make the cattle edgy. Hallikar bulls are made to walk and run in front of prospective buyers in a show of their physical strength and health. Their mouths are prised open and teeth examined to gauge their age and health. The younger the bull, the better it is for the farm. Milch cows are milked on the spot to assess the yield.
“The teats of the cow has nerves that strengthen once it starts milking. There are three or four nerves which show up,” says farmer JD Shetty, showing his cow. His friend Sidda Shetty says, “We look at its teeth to see if it has four teeth or six teeth. A cow generally gives birth when it has two centre incisors. And worn out teeth indicates that the cow is old”.
Some cows are with calves as young as a few days. The healthy ones are instantly picked, money exchanged and the cattle are shoved into an open carrier to be taken away.
For a small and medium farmer here, livestock is an asset, something that could be traded for a quick profit, mostly in times of emergency. Most farmers who come here can’t afford to care for cows that do not have high milk yield or bulls, like the Jersey bulls, that cannot be used in the fields to till the land. Then there are the cattle with physical ailments – a bull that cannot walk or run is a liability for the farmer. Earlier they would be sent to slaughterhouses. Not anymore.
The new Act defines ‘beef’ as the flesh of cattle in any form and the word ‘cattle’ is defined as “cow, calf of a cow and bull, bullock, and he or she buffalo below the age of thirteen years”.
“The monthly expense of a cow or a bull is anywhere between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000,” says farmer Prakash. He explains that a small or a medium farmer lacks the wherewithal to afford an unproductive cow or a bull and is often hard-pressed to give it away.
“This will cause us losses! Losses! Imagine that this cow is injured and I have no money for emergencies like medical care. If this cow dies, where will I get money from? If we have these cows which we can sell, then we can take care of our hospital bills, other household bills. If I borrow money from you and I have to pay you back, then I can at least sell this cow and pay you back. Now if this cow dies, how will I pay you?” asks a visibly agitated farmer Nagamallappa.
The Law Offers No Way Out
The farmers who cannot care for the cattle because the bill does not have provisions to extend cash transfers to individuals who have weak or sick animals, are desperately seeking a way to sustain their trade. Though Karnataka has cow protection shelters, not many have room to cater to the growing numbers of cattle which cannot make their way to the slaughter stalls thanks to the ban.
Shivamma, a farmer with four acres of land in the nearby Kunthkere village where she grows vegetables, is looking for a good bargain. She is smarting from a faulty buy three to four years ago. “I bought some cows when I was told the cows will deliver four to five litres of milk and it didn’t. I lost Rs 4,000 to 5,000 in the bargain.”
She says farming is not profitable since there is water shortage in her village. As we take leave, she asks, “Can I get a job in Bengaluru?”
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