The collapse of cattle trade in Karnataka has added to the economic woes of farmers in the state after the BJP government enacted the Karnataka Prevention and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020. It has spelt economic ruin to Hindus and Muslims alike. Hindus fear that their old and unproductive cows and oxen could never be bought by anyone. The Muslims who used to purchase such cattle are scared not just of the law, which prescribes stringent punishment to those engaged in cattle trade, but also of the cow vigilantes who – actuated by the Hindutva ideology – attack and even kill them.
It may be recalled that in Uttar Pradesh, the ban on cow slaughter was followed by the menace of stray cattle, which devastated crops. It became a huge electoral issue during the 2022 assembly elections but the BJP nevertheless won.
In Karnataka too, farmers and those engaged in cattle trade are helplessly confronting the collapse of their economies after the law banning cow slaughter came into force. People of diverse faiths engaged in farming and those earning their livelihood by engaging in cattle trade are very bitter against the BJP regime and its chief minister Basavaraj Bommai for their mounting economic woes.
Author Johnson T.A. observed in a recent article, “Across the cattle market, there is a consensus that the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020, introduced by the BJP government, has delivered a crippling blow to farmers by virtually criminalising the trade of cattle and creating an environment of fear.” Similar observations were made as early as February 2022.
In fact, even Karnataka’s finance department had earlier cautioned that there would be ‘huge financial implications’ for the State on account of that law.
In the aforementioned article by Johnson, he quotes a farmer, Somme Gowda, who said, “The entire cattle trade market has collapsed after the government introduced the law banning cattle slaughter in the state.” Gowda further added by saying, “There are no takers for cattle that used to go to slaughter houses. The Muslim traders have almost disappeared,”
Johnson quotes one Yunus, whose brother Pasha was killed by cow vigilantes. According to Yunus, “the Act had broken a social contract that existed between farmers of all communities and cattle traders. Do the people who allow all this not understand the reality on the ground? In the name of protection of Gau Mata, they are killing people and ruining the lives of farmers. The maximum sellers are from the majority community (Hindus). They want to sell cattle when they stop producing milk or fall ill. They bring the cattle to the market themselves or call middlemen. Now all that has collapsed.”
Swamy Gowda, a middleman in the cattle trade stated that in Karnataka, “many traditional cattle markets are shutting down. There are few merchants to buy cattle” and declared his preference to vote either Congress or JD(S) in the election scheduled to take place on May 10, 2023.
He refers to the Rs 6,000 paid to the accounts of farmers under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana and criticises it by saying that the cost of feed, and fertilisers is too high and they spend a minimum of Rs 60,000. He described Narendra Modi as a prime minister indulging in publicity and pushing polarising agenda. He then sharply observed, “There was only one [A.B.] Vajpayee. The present government is all about publicity. What is the cost of fuel, the cost of LPG under this government?… And, even Muslims are citizens of this country. Do they not eat the food of this earth? In this region, they are a part of our lives.”
The economic devastation suffered by the people of Karnataka, regardless of their faith, and their criticism of the law framed by the BJP regime to ban cow slaughter without consulting them is in equal measure a clear indication that the majoritarian agenda of the BJP is failing to mobilise people in its favour.
Gandhi’s letter of 1927 to the Cow Protection Committee of Mysore
In the context of such developments taking place in Karnataka, one is reminded of a letter written by none other than Mahatma Gandhi to the Cow Protection Committee of Mysore on January 11, 1927. Almost a hundred years ago, what Gandhiji wrote assumes significance for the people of Karnataka. He stated, “In matters of religion I am against any State interference, and the cow question is in India a mixed matter of religion and economy.”
“I have no doubt that it is the concern of every State, whether Hindu or Mussalman, to conserve the cattle supply,” he asked, “…whether the State would be justified in interposing itself between Hindus and Mussalmans and regulating cow slaughter…”
Gandhi in spite of being a devout Hindu even went to the extent of saying, “In India which I consider to be as much the land of Hindus born in it as of Mussalmans, Christians and others born in it, even a Hindu State may not prohibit cow slaughter for purposes considered to be religious by any of its subjects without the consent of the intelligent majority of such subjects so long as such slaughter is conducted in private and without any intention of provoking or giving offence to Hindus.”
Was there the consent of – or even consultation with – the “intelligent majority” before the BJP government of Karnataka enacted the Prevention and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020? Clearly, the aforementioned statements of Somme Gowda, Yunus and Swamy Gowda show that none was consulted and the law was imposed without following the lawmaking process of deliberation and consultation.
Gandhi very sensitively observed in his letter, “But in my opinion the economic side of the cow question, if it is properly handled, automatically provides for the delicate religious side.” The stark reality is that the economic part of the cow question has not been handled properly by political regimes, specifically BJP regimes. We are confronting a situation where people, be they Hindus or Muslims, are now facing severe economic consequences and their household economics is getting devastated.
Role of the state in dealing with cattle
Gandhi suggested measures which make eminent sense for 21st-century India in the context of farmers who are facing a bleak future owing to dwindling income from agriculture :
(1) The State should in the open market buy out every [head of] cattle offered for sale by outbidding every other buyer.
(2)The State should run dairies in all principal towns ensuring a cheap supply of milk.
(3) The State should run tanneries where the hides, bones, etc., of all dead cattle in its possession, should be utilised and should offer to buy again in the open market all privately-owned dead cattle.
(4) The State should keep model cattle farms and instruct the people in the art of breeding and keeping cattle
What we are witnessing now is state policy which causes misery to the farmers and those involved in the cattle trade. No wonder that they are up in arms against the BJP government in Karnataka. One has to wait and see how it would impact the electoral outcome.