Monday, October 14, 2013

Eid al-Adha tough time for Indian cattle traders

Cattle for Muslim festival of sacrifice

MALEGAON, India (AA) – Rafique Ansari, a 38-year-old small-time textile trader, is not a happy man.
For the past four years, he has worked as a seasonal cattle trader for one month before the Eid al-Adha, a Muslim religious feast that marks the climax of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
This year, however, it's been especially hard for him to sustain his small business.
"Local police have seized four bulls, along with the transportation vehicle I hired," Ansari told Anadolu Agency in Malegaon, a Muslim-majority textile town some 300km north of Mumbai.
He added that police had accused him of flouting cattle-protection regulations.
As a rule, Indian cattle traders must fulfill three criteria for buying cattle for sacrifice. They must procure a receipt from a government-approved cattle agency, a medical certificate stating the cattle is unfit for farming, and a vehicle license for transporting the cattle.
Ansari bought his four bulls from a Hindu farmer in Zahirabad, a municipality in the Medak district of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
He failed, however, to produce the receipt or the medical certificate.
"Since I bought the cattle from an individual it was difficult to produce the required documents," Ansari explained.
The farmer, he said, had not been willing to go through the "painful" and "lengthy" bureaucratic procedures required to obtain the needed documents.
"The farmer sold me the cattle at a discount," admitted an embarrassed Ansari. "Now I'm paying the price of that discount."
Malegaon has a population of about 700,000, of which at least 70 percent are Muslim.
So far this year, police have seized at least 150 bulls and 22 vehicles for allegedly transporting the cattle illegally.
The estimated combined worth of the seized cattle and vehicles stands at close to 5 million rupees (roughly $84,000).
The seized cattle have been kept at the premises of the local Gao Raksha Samiti (Cow Protection Organization), a right-wing Hindu organization devoted to cow protection.
A trader, wishing not to be named, questioned the choice of the venue for the impounded cattle.
"The Gao Raksha Samiti is an extended arm of the police," he fumed.
According to a top police official, however, the arrangement is only temporary.
"Malegaon Corporation does not have any such facility, so we are forced to keep the cattle there," he told AA, requesting anonymity.
Religious Hindus, for whom cows are sacred, are opposed to the slaughter of the animals.
There is no federal law forbidding cow-slaughter in India, but most Indian states have state laws prohibiting the practice.
Political commentator Mustafa Khan questioned the rationale behind rules that only not-so-healthy cattle could be sacrificed for Eid al-Adha.
"I am personally of the opinion that only healthy bulls should be sacrificed on Eid, as Islam commands," he told AA.
-Greasing palms-
Dozens of Indian Muslims have been lured by the potential profits to be made from seasonal cattle trading.
Irfan Shaikh, a small-time businessman who deals in sweets, has been in the seasonal cattle trading business for a decade.
To avoid any inconvenience, Shaikh always buys his cattle in advance.
"Every year, the police step up the vigil, so it's always wise to buy at least two months in advance," he told AA.
When asked whether this meant he was not fulfilling the government's criteria for purchasing cattle, he answered with a smile.
"Law-enforcement agencies only check the documents during this season," he replied.
Shaikh is a free market advocate, believing that no one should intervene in business between two private individuals.
"The agencies should enforce the rules throughout the year if they really care for the law," he argued.
Unlike seasonal cattle traders, professional cattle traders know how to survive in this cutthroat business.
Mustaqeem Khan, a former butcher, now works as a fulltime cattle trader.
According to Khan, one must build a network extending from the point of purchase to the point of sale.
"It's a matter of good networking and a little knowledge of geography," he told AA.
The distance between Zahirabad and Malegaon is at least 600km.
Khan claims there is rampant corruption in the cattle trade; that it is almost impossible to transport cattle without "greasing the palms" of law-enforcement agencies.
"At every check-post, one has to loosen the purse strings to avoid any trouble," he said.
Khan said that such corruption usually spikes during the Eid al-Adha.
"With so much demand for healthy bulls and limited supply during the season, corruption is bound to rise," he explained.
The senior police official, for his part, denied the allegation.
"We are very actively cooperating with cattle traders to make sure that Eid passes smoothly," he told AA. "Don't you see the number of bulls being brought to Malegaon?"
Prices for the sacrificial animals have risen sharply with the recent police seizures. A mid-sized bull, for example, is currently priced at 24,000 rupees (roughly $400).
Cattle traders, meanwhile, are capitalizing on the price hike to realize quick profits.
Ansari, whose four seized bulls will be released after Eid, expects to incur major losses this year.
"There is no other option but to face the loss this year," he lamented. "Next year, I will be careful about the required documents."

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