The bull in the banhttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/the-bull-in-the-ban/

The bull in the ban

As earnings drop in the wake of Maharashtra’s new beef law, Nikam trods markets to find buyers for his bulls.

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Nikam heads back from the cattle market with Raja and Dangi after failing to sell them again. (Source: Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty)

A day in the life of Sachin Ashok Nikam, 29, farmer, nashik

It is 6 am Wednesday. As the driver of the carrier van turns on the ignition, farmer Sachin Ashok Nikam (29), in the passenger seat, sends a silent prayer. Behind him, his three bulls shuffle restlessly. Twelve kilometres from Nikam’s hut on the Nashik road, a huge cattle market is about to start in the Nashik Krishi Utpanna Bazaar Samiti in Panchvati.

Nikam is going with the hope of selling at least one of his bulls. Since the past few market days, the section for bulls has been shrinking.

Nikam chooses a spot in the open to get better visibility, hammers a wooden block into the ground and ties a rope around to tether his bulls.

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It is his second try at the market, apart from numerous other attempts at the local markets and in his neighbourhood.

Nikam has paid Rs 800 as freight charges to ferry the cattle to the market — and back home if he can’t sell them. As he watches in despair, buffaloes keep getting picked up by buyers, including one for a record Rs 1.25 lakh. Bulls, including Nikam’s, stand listlessly munching fodder.

Finally, at noon, a desperate Nikam gives away his eldest bull, 12-year-old Harni, to a cart-puller for free. “Can’t afford the fodder,” he mumbles as Harni is led away.

“No one is ready to buy. Not even at half price,” sighs Balasaheb Dhuge, a farmer from Pimpalgaon near Nashik, who is at the market with one bull and three cows.

Their problems tell the story playing across Maharashtra since its Animal Preservation (Amendment), Act, 1995, came into place on March 3, banning the slaughter of bulls and bullocks along with that of cows and calves.

Now a person engaged in the sale, possession or trade of beef can be jailed for five years or fined Rs 10,000. “Munaafe ke liye kaun chakki pisega (Who will risk jail for profit)?” Nikam wonders aloud.

So he and many others around Nashik have little choice but to be here today with their “unproductive” bulls. While earlier traders would make lucrative offers to buy an old bull for slaughter, now old and handicapped bulls have no takers except goshalas, which usually accept them as donation.

While Nikam had Harni for six years, he bought his other two bulls Raja and Dangi, both aged three, just a day before the law was passed. “I bought them for Rs 24,000 and Rs 22,000,” he says. “No one is ready to take them for even Rs 10,000.”

There was a time, he smiles, when there were six bulls any given day in his shed. “I used to buy from other farmers, use them for ploughing and then sell them to traders. On every transaction I gained about Rs 3,000,” he says, adding that his profit margin was more than anyone around. His monthly earnings from the bull trade and his farm amounted to Rs 5,000- Rs 6,000.

In the last two months, with no rains, no ploughing work for the bulls, and the option of selling them closed, feeding them has become a burden.

Ironically, says Nikam, he is himself a “pakka shakahari (pure vegetarian)”. So, he wonders, whose interests is the state government protecting?

At around 5.30 pm, Nikam decides to return home, walking back to save money. Giving Raja and Dangi food in the backyard of his hut, he says, “The fodder costs me Rs 200 per bull every day. Harni had hardly been able to plough the field for the past 12 months. Still I kept it the longest, for six years.”

Recounting his attempts to sell the bulls near his village, he says, “No one even looks at them. Earlier they would sell more than goats.”
In Nashik, the price of a goat is up from Rs 2,500 to over Rs 5,000, and of a hen to Rs 300 from Rs 100.

Pointing out that letting go of an animal is distressing for the farmer too, he adds that every time he takes the bulls to sell, the faces of his two young daughters fall. “Gaya apna bail (There goes our bull),” they say. When he returns with them unsold, at least they are happy.

A usual day begins for Nikam at 5.30 am. A farmer who grows wheat, maize, fenugreek and spinach, he begins by putting out fodder for his bulls, his two cows and a calf. He then milks the cows which yield approximately 7-8 litres, half of which he sells in the local market for around Rs 100. He then does the rounds of the market to look for a new bull or cow to buy.

“With 10 members, most of the milk is consumed by the family,” he says. Nikam lives with his parents, two younger brothers, wife, brother’s wife and three children.

Till the evening, he is at his 1.5-acre field. “After returning, the first thing I do is again give the cattle their fodder,” he says.

However, in the fields too, the story this year isn’t good. His own crops stand dry, waiting for rain.

The wheat was harvested last month, and the sudden bursts of rain have spoilt his grains. “My produce was damaged by 30 per cent,” he says, adding that the wheat they kept for their own consumption is also fast depleting.

With his monthly earnings down by half, the family is heavily dependent on the Rs 6,000 that Nikam’s younger brother Sandeep Nikam, 25, brings home every month. He works in a real-estate firm.

“Last year, I paid Rs 16,000 for my daughters’ school admission,” Nikam says, patting his bull absent-mindedly.

His hopes now rest on Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh leader Prakash Ambedkar, who has appealed to the Maharashtra government to change the law for the benefit of farmers and traders by April 24.

“If things remain as it is, I may switch to buffalo trade. But then buffaloes do not give milk as easily. Their maintenance is different,” Nikam discusses with his brother. “No, we cannot handle buffaloes, we need to build a shed for them,” Sandeep rules it out.

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There are two other major cattle markets in Sinnar and Khetwadi, 22 km and 70 km away. On Sunday and Monday, Nikam will head there, to try sell Raja and Dangi one last time.