IT is 9.15 am and Shalu Parveen is late for work. Clad in a shirt and a pair of white trousers, Parveen adjusts her white cap, tucks in a few wayward strands of her hair and sprints towards the entrance of the blue-and-white building that houses Al-hamd Frozen Food Pvt Ltd. In her early 30s, Parveen is one of the 500 workers employed at this mechanised slaughterhouse in Khurja town of western Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr district.
In its election manifesto, the BJP has promised to shut “illegal slaughterhouses” and mechanised abattoirs if voted to power — BJP president Amit Shah has used every opportunity to say these abattoirs would be banned “across the state from the night of March 12 (day after counting)”.
For now, though, it’s another deadline that’s bothering Parveen. “I should have been here at 9, pandrah minute late (late by 15 minutes),” she says, breathless. As she walks through the gate, security guard Jagat Singh says, “Madam, aaj der ho gai (You are late today)”. “My daughter wasn’t ready to go to school today. I got late trying to convince her,” she says, walking past the guard.
While Parveen stays in the staff quarters on the factory premises, she visits her six-year-old daughter Chahat in Muzaffarnagar “at least once in two months”. Parveen’s doctor-husband had divorced her soon after Chahat was born and her daughter now lives with Parveen’s parents.
Parveen is a packing supervisor at Al-hamd Frozen Food Pvt Ltd, one of the biggest mechanised abattoirs in Bulandshahr, where her job is to pack buffalo meat. “I get Rs 8,000 a month. The company takes care of my accommodation and food and I send almost 70 per cent of my salary home,” she says.
Uttar Pradesh is one of the top buffalo meat-producing states in the country. According to the state’s Animal Husbandry Department, UP produced 7,515.14 lakh kg of buffalo meat in 2014-15. There are about 130 legal slaughterhouses in the state, employing over two lakh people, apart from several units that run without licences.
Parveen heads to the ‘packing unit’ at one end of the factory, where a group of workers are waiting for her to arrive and issue directions. Around 10 am, their supervisor, Karan Solanki, 40, reaches the unit. “Make sure you tie your hair properly. And where are your caps? I don’t want a single loose strand in the meat,” he says, addressing a group of women.
“They are from Kerala,” Parveen says. The women — Sushila (30), Nisha (32), Annamma (56), Pushpa (28) and Radha (30) — quickly wear their cloth caps and get back to work, sticking expiry tags on freshly wrapped meat packets.
Nisha says she came to Bulandshahr five years ago with her husband and child. “There are no jobs back home. One of my friends, who worked in this abattoir for a decade and who has now shifted to another one in Meerut, said I would find work here,” she says. Her husband now works at a slaughterhouse in Khurja and her daughter studies in a private school.
Solanki, who is from Borauli village in Bulandshahr, has been working at Al-hamd for over two decades. “My father and brothers work on our fields. Not me. Agriculture involves a lot of hard work and no money,” he says, adding that he has studied till his Class 11.
The factory, spread over 4,000 sq feet, has several units which work round the clock. The slaughtering unit, which is at one end of the factory, is out of bounds for visitors. Besides, there are the freezing and packing units, along with a water treatment plant and chambers to stock hide and other byproducts. At the farthest end of the factory are the staff quarters.
Work at the slaughterhouse begins at 9 am, when the first trucks with cattle start arriving from farmers and mandis across Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. That’s also when the machines are switched on in the slaughtering units.
“The animals that are slaughtered today are the ones that would have reached the abattoir a day earlier. There is a mandatory cooling-off period of 12 hours. The animals are slaughtered only after a maulana says his prayers. They also undergo a check-up by the factory vet who finds out if they are fit for slaughter,” says Solanki.
Around 10.30 am, as he walks into one of the two large cooling units, Solanki says, “After the animals are slaughtered, a meat inspector checks if all the skin, hair and unwanted parts are removed from the animal. The flesh is then segregated and kept in plastic containers. Before they head to the chillers, the meat inspector does a final sign-off,” says Solanki, estimating that 4,000-4,500 buffaloes are slaughtered in the abattoir every month.
It’s now a little after noon and Anwar Husain Khan, the owner of the abattoir, is doing the rounds of the factory. Standing outside the freezing unit, he refers to the BJP’s election talk on slaughterhouses and admits that the “entire industry is in panic mode”.
“If abattoirs are shut, it will increase unemployment and create law and order problems. Just look around. Here, there are people of all castes and religion. They all work together because at the end of the day, they need money to take back to their families.”
We must understand that it is not just the slaughterhouse industry that will be hit by such a decision but other allied industries such as leather… and even farmers. The net worth of the entire industry is approximately Rs 17,000 crore. I don’t think the government should take any decision in haste,” he says.
At the packaging unit, Mohanlal Sharma is putting chunks of buffalo’s meat in plastic bags and dropping them into a carton. “These will go to malls and other big establishments,” he says, looking at his watch. It’s 1.15 pm and he decides to break for lunch. “We all eat together,” he says, adding that it’s the after-lunch tea that is the high-point of their afternoons. “We go to the tea shop outside the factory. It’s a daily routine now,” he says.
As he washes his hands, Sharma, a resident of Badshahpur Pachgai village in Bulandshahr, says, “See, I am a Kanyakubja Brahmin and a vegetarian. But this is my job and I do it. I don’t believe any work is big or small — these animals are being cut as there is a demand for it,” he says.
At 2.30 pm, as the workers head back to work, Mahendra, a cook at the abattoir, says the last few months have been very tough. “My sister was getting married around the time notebandi happened. I panicked. I was sent home. Par bhala ho in malikon ka ki har karamchari ko ghar baithne ke bhi paise diye (But god bless these owners who paid the workers even when there was no work).”
Around 5.30 pm, with the machines now coming to a halt, Solanki moves to the lobby near the cashier’s office to look up the duty roster. “Let me see who is on the night shift,” he says.
Then, as he heads out to the gates of the abattoir, he says, “I hope all this talk of shutting down slaughterhouses is just election talk. Netaon ko yad rakhna chahiye ki quatlkhano me sirf maut nahin, zindagi bhi basti hai (Politicians must remember that there is not just death but life inside a slaughterhouse too),” he says.
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