In Goa, Cattle Slaughter Prohibitions And Gau Rakshaks Have Been Present For Years Before the Centre’s New Livestock Market Rules

With approximately 25 percent of the state’s population being Christian and eight percent Muslim, Goa's food politics has provided adequate opportunity for saffron groups to test their mettle. Rick Friedman/Corbis/Getty Images
07 July, 2017

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.

Hanuman Parab, the president of the gau-rakshak group Gouvansha Raksha Abhiyan, told me that the group began its activities in 2008. “We want a ban on beef because the cow and the family of cow has other positive uses that people are not aware of,” he said. Animal welfare NGOs have collaborated with gau-rakshak groups on raids. “It has nothing to do with vigilantism,” Kazi told me. “They see a distressed animal and go to rescue it. That’s all. What the vigilantes are doing elsewhere is wrong.”

Goa was one of the first states to ban cow slaughter in India. In 1978, the state government, led by the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, a current ally of the BJP-led regime presently ruling Goa, enacted the Goa Daman and Diu Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act. The act strictly prohibited the slaughter of cows-- only other cattle animals could be slaughtered in the state.

In 1995, the Congress government in power in the state tightened the regulations on cattle slaughter through the Goa Animal Preservation Act. Under it, all bovine animals—which includes bulls, bullocks, male calves, male and female buffaloes and buffalo calves—could only be slaughtered if they were certified as unlikely to become economical for agricultural, breeding or milking purposes. The act stipulated that the slaughter of bovine animals could only be conducted at a place specified by the government, effectively banning all existing slaughterhouses in markets. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules, which the central government notified in 2001, imposed additional conditions on cow slaughter. These included a ban on slaughter of animals that were either pregnant; or less than three months old; or had an offspring that was less than three months old; or if the animal had not been certified as fit for slaughter by a veterinary doctor.

According to Lyndon Monteiro, the former chairman of the Goa Meat Complex, the complex was setup in 1982 as the only state-sanctioned and state-run abattoir under the Goa Animal Preservation Act. At the complex, the slaughter is more scientific and more expensive. A former high-ranking official of the state’s animal husbandry department, who requested not to be identified, told me that the complex charges around Rs 400 for a slaughter. He added that it imposes additional charges for carving and cold storage besides stringent ante and post-mortem checks for cysts, infections and diseases—all of which increased the number of rejected cattle as well as the costs for both meat traders and consumers. According to the official, private slaughterhouses in the state and the ones in Karnataka did not impose these additional charges. Over the past decade, the animal welfare and cow protection groups have managed to get authorities to implement the laws and shut down all other illegal slaughter venues. The complex became, and continues to be, the sole legal and licensed slaughterhouse in the state.

In April 2013, Gouvansh Raksha Abhiyan filed a case in the high court against the complex. In the petition, the group accused the veterinary doctor and abattoir management of violating the laws on the fitness for cattle to be slaughtered. That month, the court issued a stay on the operations of the Goa Meat Complex, and granted custody of 115 bulls, worth approximately Rs 20 lakh, to the group. Although the court disposed of the petition in July 2015, Monteiro said it took several months to develop the complex in order to meet the legal requirements imposed by the court for resuming operations. Parab, the group’s president, also expressed his opposition to the mechanization of the plant, after the court issued the temporary stay, at the third edition of the All India Hindu Conference held in Goa in June 2014.

Manna Bepari, the owner of a meat shop in Panjim, spoke to me about how meat sellers managed at the time. “We had no alternative but to import dressed beef from Karnataka for sale in Goa,” he said. “The good thing though is that now all the transport is streamlined and done properly. All traders carry proper documents now,” he added. But traders continue to complain of harassment.

In early June, shortly after the central government notified the new rules, meat traders in Goa announced that cattle supply had been turned back at the Karnataka border. Goa itself has no cattle markets and the meat traders in the state purchase aged cattle from animal markets in Belgaum, in Karnataka, and surrounding regions. The cattle are then transported by contractors to the Goa Meat Complex for the slaughter. Anwar told me, “We [the Qureshi Meat Traders’ Association] rely 100 percent on Karnataka to purchase animals, and if this is stopped then production will cease and livelihoods will be affected.”

The traders had expressed their fear of a shortage in the days following their cattle being turned back at the state border. However, after the association appealed to the state’s chief minister Manohar Parikkar, the beef supply reportedly resumed within two days. The government ministers denied that the centre’s livestock market rules had caused the problem and attempted to deflect the blame onto traders and the Congress-led Karnataka government.

A shortage of beef could upset the BJP’s political calculations, where the party is straining to occupy the middle ground to woo Christians away from the Congress. Beef is consumed here by nearly half of the state's resident population of Christians and Muslims as well as several Hindus in the state. According to Monteiro, beef consumption in Goa is roughly 50 tonnes a day, half of which is sold fresh in 70 licensed municipal shops by the Qureshi traders.

The BJP has a majority of Christian legislators, owing to a concerted move from 2012 to give tickets to Christians politicians. Given the current electoral arithmetic, the support of the Christian community is critical for any party aspiring to rule Goa. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had tried to maintain a studied silence on the issue of beef politics in the aftermath of the regulations. However, the conflict of opinions within the state government is evident.

Vijai Sardesai, the agriculture minister and a member of the regional Goa Forward Party, has been the most vocal on the issue. “I believe that these new rules will lead to the penury of farmers,” Sardesai told me when we spoke on 15 June. “It will also hit the hospitality industry, meat and leather industry and ancillary industries. I am not at all happy with the new rules.” He told media reporters on 17 June that he discussed the issue with Parrikar, and that the chief minister “will write to the centre.” The next day, while addressing a function on Goa Revolution Day, which is observed every year to commemorate Goa’s freedom struggle against Portuguese occupation, Parrikar reportedly stated that “we will abide by the law.” Ten days later, Sudin Dhavalikar, the transport minister and member of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, stated that the party would raise its voice if any harm was caused to a cow. For the moment, the Goa Forward Party’s position on beef is being foregrounded by the government, a strategy that could help the saffron ruling party retain Goa's beef supplies, but not harm their position among the beef-ban protagonists among the saffron groups.

Meanwhile a new group called Beef for Goa-Goa for Beef, with Abdul Matin and Savio Fernandes as joint Christian and Muslim convenors, has been vocal on the issue. The group was forged from an interfaith dialogue group initiated by the Centre for Social Justice and Peace—the social justice wing of the archdiocese of Goa. On 8 June, the group issued a press release that objected to the Livestock Market Rules and stated that it would “lead to a ban on cow slaughter.”

The group also criticised the government's silence and frequent somersaults. It noted that the BJP-led government had initially stated that it would respect the food and meat choices of the Goan people, before “selectively interpreting the law with a view to excluding minorities and eventually the marginalized sections such as poor farmers and Dalit populations, all of whom are dependent on animal slaughter of aged animals for their livelihood.”

On 12 June, the Qureshi Meat Traders Association had filed a writ petition in the high court challenging the constitutional validity of the central government’s May 2017 regulations on the sale of livestock at animal markets. The court heard the case on 4 July and directed the state and central government to file their reply to the petition within two weeks. The Supreme Court has also issued notice to the centre, in another petition challenging the rules, directing it to file its reply by 11 July. Fernandes told me that the Beef for Goa group was also considering approaching the court as members of civil society, in addition to working on a petition addressed to the chief minister.