AS A Union minister, Maneka Gandhi has her constraints in taking up animal rights activism. Her aide Gauri Maulekhi does not. Serving as an adviser to Maneka, Maulekhi has emerged as one of the most influential voices on animal rights over the last couple of years.
She was one of the main petitioners in Supreme Court, seeking a ban on jallikattu, the bull-taming sport, that had kept Tamil Nadu on the boil for several days last year. She is also the person in the petition that is the origin of last week’s government notification for regulation of animal markets, which has controversial provisions banning trading of cattle for slaughter.
These are just two of the nearly 45 cases Maulekhi has filed — all in her personal capacity — in various courts across the country to protect animal rights. While the new rules have come under sharp criticism from many opposition parties in several states, Maulekhi said that the rules have been misunderstood. “It is not at all about controlling people’s eating habits — nowhere does the new rule say one cannot buy cattle for slaughter. The only restriction it imposes is that cattle for slaughter cannot be bought from ‘agricultural markets’. But one can always buy these directly from the farm. There is no restriction on that,” she said.
Associated with the Maneka Gandhi-headed People For Animals (PFA) since its inception in 1994, Maulekhi’s first petition was in Uttarakhand High Court against the practice of animal sacrifice. The Regulation of Livestock Market Rules, framed under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act notified last week, traces its origins to a 2014 petition by Maulekhi seeking Supreme Court’s intervention in the illegal smuggling of cattle from India to Nepal, where they are sacrificed as part of a religious ritual. The scope of that petition got widened and the Supreme Court had asked the Centre last year to frame rules to regulate animal markets.
“Since 2009, I have been documenting every cattle market in UP, Uttarakhand, Kerala and West Bengal…(I observed) these markets were not serving farmers — there were hardly any milch cattle being traded legitimately. What was happening was wholesale trading of cattle for smuggling.”
She said these cattle are made to travel for four or five days, (and) are bought and sold in many intermediate markets. “They eventually end up in slaughterhouses, getting brutally treated in between…. The journey from the farm to the slaughterhouse is a nightmare for these animals,” Maulekhi said.