Updated: April 19, 2015 12:50:38 pm
Police in Malegaon, the Maharashtra town that became the first to see arrests under the state’s new anti-slaughter cattle law, are shooting (on camera) every cow, bull and buffalo — and their owners. Just for the record, they say.
Photographs: Amit Chakravarty
On a simmering afternoon in Malegaon, 14-year-old Shakeel Ahmed leaves his handloom work mid-way, rushes home, swaps his ragged white vest for a new maroon shirt, combs his well-oiled hair, and steps into the tiny backyard of his house to get a picture clicked with his two-year-old calf, one hand holding her rein. His excited family members try to squeeze into the frame but scramble away when a police constable asks them to step back. The photograph of the freshly-bathed calf and a nervously smiling Shakeel will not be framed on the wall of their house; it will, in fact, be pasted in a newly bought register titled ‘Gaya, Bail, Bachara (Cow, Bull, Calf)’ at Pawarvadi police station in the town.
It has been three weeks since the Malegaon police started this excercise of photographing every cow, bull and calf in the town — so far, 312 cattle and their 174 owners have been photographed, the positives enlarged into 4×6” photographs and pasted in registers at Malegaon’s seven police stations. It all began on March 26, a day after Malegaon recorded its first bull slaughter offence following the enforcement of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act on March 3. Four people were arrested and let out on bail.
On March 31, Additional Superintendent of Police Sunil Kadasane called a meeting of Muslim cattle owners in Malegaon. The briefing was simple: “The government has passed a law to ban cow and bull slaughter. And we will take all measures to enforce it. Please cooperate, get your cows, bulls and calves photographed and registered with us so that we have a record,” Haji Haneef, a cattle trader, recalls Kadasane saying.
The police have also issued orders to owners to inform them whenever they sell their cattle. “All this trouble for just a cow or bull,” sighs Haneef. His neighbourhood has several Muslims who own milch cows and selling and buying is a frequent activity amongst them.
Malegaon, over 250 km from Mumbai in Maharashtra’s Nashik district, is home to several small-scale enterprises and a quaint movie industry that produces screaming rip-offs of Bollywood classics. But there’s a grimmer side: a series of riots and bomb blasts have ensured the town its share of notoriety. So when the first arrests in Maharashtra under the new anti-slaughter law happened here, few sat up and took notice. Kadasane did.
“We can’t afford to have any more such incidents. That was the idea behind photographing cattle. And we aren’t picking and choosing. Every cattle owner — Hindu or Muslim — will be part of this exercise,” he says.
Constable Vijay Mahale of the Azad Nagar police station says that soon after the ban came into effect, he got random calls from people, mostly complaints about neighbours, that went: ‘Saab, humne bail dekha, woh kaatne ke liye laya hai (Sir, we saw a bull that he has got for slaughter)’.
Police say maintaining records of cattle would save Muslims from false accusations. “After the ban came into force, Hindu groups were after us to investigate Muslim households,” says a police officer in the town.
“Also, people may try to settle their personal battles by registering false complaints. A Hindu can come and say that a Muslim is keeping cows for slaughter. What do we do in such a case? Now if we have a record, we can open the register and tell the complainant that the animal has been with the family for years,” says Ankush Ingle of the Chawani police station, adding that people in small towns such as Malegaon keep cows as pets. “In cities, it is dogs; here parents buy cows for their children to play with.”
Across the town’s police stations, constables have started door-to-door visits, asking, as Vijay Thakurwad, a police inspector at the Pawarvadi station, says, “Tumhare gai ka photu liya?’” Thakurwad says the “smart” ones counter-question him, asking if the police will provide free fodder for their cattle if they cooperate in getting pictures clicked.
“We gave advertisements in local Urdu papers for three days to notify people about the registration. Two to three hours are devoted for this exercise every day,” says Shivaji Bantewad, assistant police inspector at Azad Nagar station in Malegaon, as he walks into the tiny tabela of Vithal Maruti Gawli to get pictures of the latter’s three cows and two bulls photographed.
“Some forthcoming owners submitted photographs and details of their cattle on the first day itself,” says Bantewad, adding that the knowledge of the new law is limited in Malegaon. “When the first offence was committed, I had to search on the Internet to get a copy of the amended law. Even the judge didn’t know the new law, I showed it to him,” says Bantewad.
Flip through the ‘Gaya, Bail, Bachara’ registers at different police stations and the format is identical: each page is devoted to one, sometimes two, cattle owners and every cow and bull is minutely detailed. The owners’ particulars are mentioned too — addresses, occupations, names and details of family members, and who he bought the cattle from. The page ends with an undertaking signed by the owner: ‘We will neither slaughter nor give away our pet for slaughter.’
Nayim Rehman got himself clicked on the very first day of the drive. He chose his pair of black glares, a crisp ironed yellow shirt, and gave a full-toothed smile to the camera with his cow and calf while a police constable scribbled notes. “If it’s a law, it’s a law. There is no harm in getting my cattle photographed by the police. It’s for my protection,” Rehman declares.
Photographer Mohsin Shaikh is glad about the way things have shaped up. He happily tails constables to people’s homes to click photographs of cows and bulls. “I will make some good money. There are several farmers who own cows in Malegaon. A picture of each, and imagine a register full of my photographed animals,” he quips. Shaikh, a shaadi photographer, also doubles as a cinematographer for Malegaon’s film industry. He is excited about his latest assignment — he has never photographed animals before and experiments with different angles.
When there is no photographer at hand, constables themselves click pictures on their phones, especially when they find stray cows. Ingle, the inspector with the Chawani police station, says, “Owners let their cows loose during the day and at night the cows return home all by themselves. Imagine how difficult our job gets then!” The civic corporation is conducting a parallel survey of stray cows, calves and bulls.
Not everyone is happy about the exercise. “It targets only Muslims, as if we love to slaughter animals,” fumes Farookh Qureshi, a cattle trader.
A few days after the new law came into effect, the Killa police station in Malegaon got a complaint that Mohammad Anees had brought home a cow for slaughter. A police team promptly raided Anees’s house. Turned out, the six-year-old cow had lived in his house for the last 18 months.
Even 14-year-old Shakeel is curious. “Why would I kill my calf? It’s just my pet,” he says as he takes the still-not-christened calf for a walk. He admits he hasn’t taken the cow out much since the ban fearing someone might file a complaint.
“Muslim families here love their cows. Women and children get restless if their cows don’t return from grazing by evening. The other community needs to understand that,” says Additional SP Kadasane.
Nashik Collector Dipendra Singh Kushwah says this is an idea worth replicating. “This is the most ideal way of ensuring that no animal is slaughtered illegally. I will first observe the process in Malegaon, then we may apply it in other areas too,” he says.
But Zakir Pathan, a constable at Killa police station, is wary. His forehead breaks into creases as he says: “Bakri-Eid is close, within four months. Larger Muslim families slaughter bulls instead of goats so that there is enough meat to go around. But now, if bulls are not available, we are worried there would be illegal trading of bulls. That’s the season Malegaon becomes difficult to handle for the police.”
Pathan, a beef lover himself, is worried about something else: “Chicken ka bhaav bahut badh gaya (the cost of chicken has shot up).”
‘Sirf kasai ka kaam aata tha, woh bhi gaya’
On April 9, three days after Malegaon’s government-run slaughterhouse resumed work after a month’s protest, over 20 members of the Qureshi community gathered in a cramped room. In the month since the new anti-slaughter law came into effect, several of the town’s Qureshis, all engaged in the beef trade, have been rendered jobless. The government had left them two options: enter the buffalo trade (the only slaughter that was now legal) or look for other means of livelihood. That hot evening, they gathered to look for a third option: find legal redressal. A writ petition from Malegaon is now underway, the fifth to be filed in Maharashtra since the ban came into effect on March 3.
Haji Ayub Qureshi, a community leader in his 70s, says around 30,000 Qureshis are now unemployed. But they are not the only ones hit. A slaughtered bull has its use in goods as disparate as shoe soles, bags and purses, buttons, jewellery, combs and soaps, all churned out of the town’s several small-scale units. Some sugar industries use bone char (charcoal from bone grist) to whiten sugar and farmers use dried bone powder as a fertiliser for their crops.
In Daregaon, a locality in Malegaon, at least eight soap factories have downed their shutters since the ban. Sagar Soap Works is the only one that has so far withstood the crisis. Its owner Ansari Bhai says, “If the crisis continues, even my business will shut.”
In Dasane, another locality, around eight bone crushing units have shut. Exactly a month ago, Asis Qureshi of the now shut B’Que Bone Crushing Factory would purchase 300 tonnes of bull bones from the town’s slaughterhouse for Rs 1,600 a tonne. His workers would then grind the bones into three forms — bone meal (for fertilisers), crushed bone (for gelatin), and bone grist (to whiten sugar). “Although buffalo slaughter has resumed, the demand and cost is so high that I can no longer afford to buy it,” says Asis.
Transport services have been hit too. Trucks of Nashik’s Kisan Transport, which used to ferry beef and bull products from Malegaon to Mumbai, have been sitting idle for a month.
Jamiat Ulema’s Malegaon president Mufti Mohammad Ismail calls it an “andhaa aur kala kanoon”, saying they are filing a writ petition in the Bombay High Court against the law.
Corporator Nafees Qureshi of the Teesra Mahaz party says, “Education mein hum zero hai, sirf kasai ka kaam aata tha, woh bhi gaya. Ye hain achche din (We are illiterate, all we could do was slaughtering. Even that is gone. Are these the good days the government promised)?”
Across Malegaon’s seven police stations, 40 FIRs are registered on an average every day, most of them relating to domestic abuse. But police fear that could change now. “Thousands of people have lost their jobs overnight. We fear the crime rate will increase. The government should think of providing alternative jobs. Our job is to just see that the law is implemented,” says Inspector Vijay Thakurwad of the Pawarvadi station. Police say they are organising community meetings to convince people to shift to buffalo trade.
But Additional SP Sunil Kadasane puts on a brave face. Malegaon’s youth, he says, are “technologically adept and can shift to any other business. And even if they commit a crime, we are here to catch them. Malegaon is a small town, everyone knows who is doing what,” he smiles.
At the centre of this “small town”, two dozen farmers have gathered at the APMC ground to sell their bulls. No buyers. About 50 meters away, an auction for buffaloes is on, with eight buyers competing for each buffalo. Further away, goat owners, who are already being offered double the price, demand more. The game has changed.
Sachin Pophade, the BJP’s Malegaon president, maintains that farmers need not worry. “We have started a system where farmers can sell their old cows and bulls to the goshala if no traders are available. We are ready to pay up to
Rs 5,000,” he claims.
Hariprasad Gupta, another BJP leader in town, says, “I have not come across any farmer who wants to sell his cattle.”
Pophade and Gupta have obviously not met Ujwal Ushre, the farmer from outer Malegaon who is at the APMC ground holding the reins of his nine-year-old bull. “I am looking at a price of Rs 18,000 for my bull. What will I do with Rs 5,000,” he snaps when told of Pophade’s offer.
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