In May 2017, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government introduced regulations preventing the sale of any cattle for slaughter at animal markets across the country. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules received criticism and open defiance from several governments of states with a beef-consuming populace. In the days following the notification, the governments of Kerala and Meghalaya passed resolutions in their respective state assemblies opposing the centre’s notification, while those of Nagaland and West Bengal stated that the notification would not be implemented in their states. Among India’s beef-consuming states, however, the BJP-led Goa government, which appeared to be searching for a solution to the effect of the regulations on the state’s beef supply, was conspicuous for its relative silence.
Goa’s tryst with gau rakshak—cow-protection—groups began at least half a decade before they became active on the national landscape. With Christians comprising 25 percent of the state’s population and Muslims about eight percent, Goa’s food politics have provided adequate opportunity for saffron groups to test their mettle. For instance, at the sixth edition of the All India Hindu Convention that was held in the state in June 2017, the groups present passed resolutions seeking the establishment of a Hindu nation and a nationwide ban on cow slaughter. Sadhvi Saraswati, one of the speakers at the event, likened the consumption of beef to “eating one’s own mother,” and called for public hangings of those who eat beef.
According to Albertina Almeida, a Goa-based advocate and human-rights activist, “Goa has always been a laboratory for saffron politics.” The politics over the state’s beef supply and production has been a long simmering one, which started off innocuously as campaigns by animal welfare non-governmental organisations. Several meat traders I spoke to recalled that trouble first began for them more than a decade ago when these NGOs began to file cases under the Transport of Animals Rules, 1978, to shut down slaughterhouses and highlight conditions of spacing within the bovine transport facilities. According to Angela Kazi, the secretary of the Panjim Animal Welfare Society—an NGO that runs animal shelters in the state—the groups took up cases where traders would force 16 bovines in a vehicle that was supposed to carry only eight.
Animal welfare NGOs began active rescue work in the state with stray dogs and snakes around 1994. “My first raid against an illegal slaughterhouse was in 2001 at the prodding of cow lovers,” Kazi told me. “We rescued 40 animals and sent them to a gaushala [cow shelter]. Today, if there is no illegal slaughter house in Goa, we can take the credit for that.” She said that the organisation had “registered around 14–15 cases over the years against illegal slaughterhouses,” before adding that “the need for more gaushalas has increased.” Amrutlal Singh, the president of the Animal Rescue Squad—another animal welfare organisation in the state—has also expressed the need for more gaushalas in the state.
Anwar Bepari, the general secretary of the Qureshi Meat Traders’ Association in the state, told me that after the animal welfare groups, gau rakshaks began impeding the beef trade in 2010. The five subsequent years were marked by raids and confiscation of the cattle. “First the NGO wallahs were there, then the rakshaks,” Anwar recalled. He added that “many traders lost money and their cattle was confiscated.” Over time, the Muslim community’s practices of qurbani—an animal sacrifice as part of the Eid-al-Adha celebrations—were curtailed. In 2013 and 2014, the Goa bench of Bombay High Court directed that the practice could only be conducted at the slaughterhouse of the state-run Goa Meat Complex. Gau-rakshak groups even met the state’s governor in 2014 to seek prevention of cow slaughter during the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Adha.