Not one of the hundreds of men gathered outside the Mumbai Suburban Beef Traders’ Association office at Deonar Abattoir knew what would happen next. On March 19, they were waiting impatiently for the association’s meeting to end.

In stark contrast to the buzz and chatter of the waiting members was the surrounding silence. The abattoir’s 16 shelters normally house hundreds of bawling, frightened animals waiting for the guillotine. That day it looked disused and abandoned. You could only see dust and hay on the floor. The water troughs were empty. There was a lone, hungry-looking buffalo tethered in a corner.

The meeting finished and the representatives emerged from the door. The men swarmed around them.

From now on not one live or slaughtered animal will leave Mumbai. Wherever there is a cattle market, whether in Bhiwandi, Kalyan or anywhere, we will go and stop it. Allah knows a favourable resolution will happen in the future.

“The strike will continue,” Mohamed Ali Qureshi, president of the association, told his colleagues. “From now on not one live or slaughtered animal will leave Mumbai. Wherever there is a cattle market, whether in Bhiwandi, Kalyan or anywhere, we will go and stop it. Allah knows a favourable resolution will happen in the future.”

Aslam Malkani was more forthright. “If we buy half a kilogram of kebabs, they buy five kilograms. They say we are crying for our food. It’s their food also. We will stop the sale of goat meat and chicken in Maharashtra in three-four days,” he added.

The meat trader promised more. “I’ll go and talk to Aslam Memon of Crawford market and ask him to stop the sale of fish also. People should know what it is to live without non-veg food. The government has closed its fist; we will close our fists, too. Even if they bring animals and ask us to slaughter we won’t do it.”

There was a roar of applause. Malkani continued, “Scientists claim that before a heavy storm there is stunned silence; the air stops moving. We will be quiet for five years. After that there will be destruction.”

***

Deonar Abattoir, sprawled across 64 acres, is like a cluster of barracks with its rows of identical, regimented buildings with pitched roofs. It houses 16 shelters for animals, and separate slaughterhouses and markets for sheep, goats, pigs and horned animals. It was set up by the municipal corporation in 1972 after the abattoir at Bandra closed because of congestion caused by the expanding suburb.

Meat-stink and hygiene must have been among the reasons but it’s also probably true that the hip Bandrawallah sleeps better if he does not know how or where his beef bourguignon or tenderloin steak came to be.

So the work of slaughter shifted to the slums of Govandi where this crested building stands out as a landmark. Here slaughter is a state-of-the-art process. The killing, rendering and waste disposal machines are far removed from its humbler neighbours who arrange their frugal wares, shredded legs of animals (paya), neatly on the pavement as if on a tray.

But none of these small entrepreneurs would have envied the traders of Deonar from March 3 when the beef traders went on strike after President Pranab Mukherjee signed Maharashtra’s Animal Preservation Amendment Bill, nearly 19 years after the State Assembly passed it during the 1995 BJP-Shiv Sena rule.

Cow slaughter was already banned under the Maharashtra Animal preservation Act but the new law extends the ban to bulls and bullocks, previously allowed under a fit-for-slaughter certificate. At the same time, the sale and possession of beef have become criminal acts with violators liable to a jail term up to five years and fines of up to Rs 10,000. Only the water buffalo is exempt from the new law.

After the President signed the bill,  lakhs of traders and workers in Maharashtra became jobless. In Deonar alone, hundreds of animals had to be moved the very night their meat became contraband.

***

After the President signed the bill,  lakhs of traders and workers in Maharashtra became jobless. In Deonar alone, hundreds of animals had to be moved the very night their meat became contraband.

A place where some 450 big animals were slaughtered every day shut down immediately. The consequences have been far-reaching for many people.

For instance, the Brihan Mumbai Mahanagar Palika received Rs 95 for every animal slaughtered. That income, an estimated annual Rs 1.64 crore, is lost. In addition, the Palika received other fees at every stage of the process: unloading, registering of animals, inspection fee, stable fees, and for electricity and water. All these jobs require labour, mostly casual workers. There livelihood suffered. Extend this to the rest of the state as there is a municipal abattoir in every district. The lost fees alone run into crores, but the loss of jobs may be a bigger blow to households and the local economy.

According to a report, Mumbai alone required 90,000 kilograms of beef a day. The loss of income that the traders have suffered runs into thousands of crores, which would rise manyfold if the rest of the state is counted.

Moreover, it was a cheap source of protein for the poor, especially the lower-caste and class Dalit community. Dalits took to beef because they could not afford chicken or mutton.

In 2009, sociologist Sharmila Rege led a project called “Isn’t This Plate Indian” in which she recorded the food memories of the Dalits. The book contains details of dishes that do not form part of upper-caste recipes.

For example, “chunchuni” is dried and salted beef stored and consumed when the family does not have money to buy vegetables. “Rakti” is a nutritious diet of chunks of coagulated blood.

From stalls in Bhendi bazaar that sold beef kebabs to high-end hotels that offered a range of beef dishes like steak and beef chilli, all have seen a drop in their business. Allied businesses like leather and chemicals have also been hit. Blood, bones and offal were used in chemicals, medicines and soap.

Rediff report stated that the beef ban is affecting the leather industry in Tamil Nadu. It sources 40 per cent of its hides from Maharashtra.

After the President signed the bill, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis tweeted a thank you, for “Our dream of ban on cow slaughter has become a reality now.”  He did not utter a word about the lakhs of people whose lives have been turned upside down by this law.

***

Shahid Sheikh is the kind of man who always seems to wear blue shirts, even when he is not wearing one. Until March 3 it seemed nothing could shake the calm on his comforting-friend-of-a-hero face.

Sheikh says he felt as if he had been struck by a “bolt of lightning” when the new law was notified. One of his workers called at 1 a.m. saying Deonar was swarmed by police who were not allowing any van to enter or leave. Sheikh, who lives in Kurla, literally ran to the abattoir. He had 15 animals for slaughter. When he reached the abattoir police showed him the notification. He was stunned to learn that no trader could slaughter or sell any more animals.

He spent the night with other traders who had rushed to the abattoir, and speaking to lawyers. The next day the president of the association went to court where they were asked to take the animals back to the villages from which they were bought. There were 10 vans destined for Solapur but in Pune they were ambushed and seized by right-wing groups. The reason: there were eight or nine animals in each van, above the stipulated six.

“Everything happened so fast. We were unprepared to transport the animals,” Sheikh says. Later they found the cows had been taken to gaushalas. When they tried to contact the police, they were told no case had been filed against them and the empty vans were parked at the police station.

When they went to the gaushala with the police to get back the animals, they were surrounded by a mob of 500.

“Even the police got afraid and urged us to leave,” Sheikh says. The only consolation the police gave was that they would file a case of contempt of court against the hijackers.

In any case, harassment by cow protection groups became a regular feature after the BJP took power in Maharashtra. Sheikh says he had a premonition that “something is going to happen soon.”

In February, traders went on strike for a short while. Mohammed Qureshi had given his reasons to The Indian Express.

“In the past, the problem was limited to the run-up to Eid al-Adha when animals would be confiscated and our people beaten up by right-wing groups. But since the new government has come to power … we are being hounded.” The strike was called off after the chief minister himself promised protection at a meeting.

“Earlier the rule was to carry 10 animals in the van,” Sheikh says. “Prithviraj Chavan passed a circular according to which only six animals could be transported. So we started moving six. We carried water, grass, everything according to law. Why did they confiscate our vans? It’s not their father’s. It’s ours. We buy it from the market, get certificates.”

***

The protesters accused the traders of taking animals to “murder” them. They tried to persuade the opposition through an RTI to the general manager of Deonar Abattoir that they didn’t “murder” the animals, but they did trade in beef. The government had opened abattoirs all over Maharashtra and licensed them to carry on the trade. The slaughter was supervised by three officers of the animal husbandry department in the presence of the assistant commissioner after veterinary inspection. It didn’t do much good, with the protesters continuing their refrain of “jeev-hatya”.

If this is animal killing why don’t they go to villages and harass the farmers who sell these animals?” Sheikh asks. “Why don’t they pay these farmers for the cows and then take them to gaushalas?

“If this is animal killing why don’t they go to villages and harass the farmers who sell these animals?” Sheikh asks. “Why don’t they pay these farmers for the cows and then take them to gaushalas?”

But the groups never do that, he says. They have informers at the cattle markets who tip them off about sales. Then they come out at night “like wolves” and stop the vans in transit, mostly near octroi points.

“This is a business without any investment for them,” he says. At times they call the police and file a case of cruelty against the transporter. “Even a rope around the neck of an animal is cruelty,” says Sheikh. “Once we said to police officials, take the rope off and ask the animal to get on the van. If they board, I will agree to the charge of cruelty.”

Sheikh says that even though buffalo meat is exempt, the traders have some problems. First of all they can never be sure if a buffalo is pregnant until a vet examines it, but that is already too late for them. “Our religion punishes slaughter of pregnant animals,”
Sheikh said.

There is also prima facie no way to differentiate between beef and carabeef (meat of water buffalo) and he fears arrest or harassment if they are found in possession even of carabeef.

Then there is the stereotype that Muslims get big animals only to slaughter them. “What if a Muslim has a dairy and is transporting animals from one place to another?” he asks. Only a day earlier, he said, at a traffic signal he saw a policeman letting off a Hindu transporting big animals. “If it had been a Muslim he would have slapped a case,” says Sheikh.

He relates a recent incident to illustrate his case. A van with buffaloes was on the way from Karar to Mumbai when some people stopped it and accused the drivers of transporting milch buffaloes and asked them to surrender the animals. When they protested they were beaten up. One of the drivers was injured and later died in hospital. Cases were filed but the culprits are still
walking free.

“Such incidents have become commonplace,” Sheikh says. “The transporters have become afraid of these hooligans. Now they don’t even want to transport buffaloes. But I want to ask people why would the farmers sell buffaloes that still give milk?”

***

In his crisp, white kurta-pajama, Chetan Sharma, 23, looks like a miniature Varun Gandhi.  Coincidentally, Sharma works for Varun’s mother and Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi’s People for Animals (PFA) organisation in Delhi. He is one of the cow captors against whom Sheikh and other traders filed a case at Worli police station. On the day I met Sheikh, Sharma was at the High Court for a hearing.

He was charged under Section 326 for breaking the headlights of the van and beating the driver transporting animals. After the FIR, Sharma was in jail for eight hours.

“It’s a fake case,” he said. “The trader beat his own driver to file a fake case against me.” Sharma claims that he has CCTV footage that shows him in a different place when the alleged incident took place. He said these cases were constantly filed against activists who intercepted vans with animals meant for illegal slaughter.

How do they know the animals will be slaughtered? “They are overloaded and the animals are cramped inside the vans without food and water.”

Sharma constantly narrows his eyes in suspicion. He believes he can see through subterfuges if he squints hard enough. He started this conversation after a lot of Google searches. He says he’s been careful ever since an attempt on his life by a butcher during one of his raids. He is accompanied by a police bodyguard who was like Sharma’s shadow during the interview.

His activism is rooted in his “god-gifted love” for animals. When he was a teenager, he would rescue wounded dogs and take them to a PFA doctor. He soon started taking birds wounded during the kite festival in Delhi around Independence Day also to a clinic.

From birds and stray dogs, Sharma graduated to turtles. His first raid was on the house of a turtle smuggler at Seelampur, whom he helped to arrest by impersonating a dummy customer. He also cracked the smuggling of parrots. “What crime has the parrot committed that it has to remain behind bars through its life?” says Sharma.

His first experience of big animal rescue was during a raid on three trucks from Rajasthan. Sharma alleges that there were 300 buffaloes in the trucks. “The butchers had damaged their eyes, broken their legs,” he says. “Blood was spilling out of the trucks.”

It was only after coming to Mumbai that he learnt cows are slaughtered. He was at a meeting organised by Sudhir Ranade, a Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) activist, in Mumbai to collect funds for an animal hospital but came out with a completely different mission, to save cows. He got goosebumps when he heard cows were slaughtered in an illegal slaughterhouse in Koparkhairane, near Mumbai.

“For me, cow is not an animal,” he says. The next day he changed his “get-up”, put on a salwar-kurta with a skull cap, and went to Koparkhairane.

“After what I saw, I could not sleep the entire night.” Sharma called Maneka Gandhi first thing in the morning and told her he wanted to do a raid.

“Madamji said they are very dangerous people,” says Sharma. “They will kill you.” Sharma was undeterred. He called the DCP of Navi Mumbai and that evening, they raided the slaughterhouse and seized 35 cows and two bullocks.

“This was the first raid in which I saved cows,” says Sharma. “I was very afraid because if they can slaughter cows, they can slaughter me. They lose feeling as they kill animals daily.”

One of the cows he saved gave birth to a calf a few days later. “I was so happy … in the gaushala people named it Chetan.” The raid was covered by various newspapers and Sharma became a kind of celebrity. He gained more confidence and turned his sights on Deonar.

At the time Sharma was guided only by instinct with very little knowledge of the law. When told by an informer that traders at Deonar were bringing in cows, he went to ambush them. He stopped the van and called the police. When they came, he claims one policeman gestured secretly to the van driver to leave.

“I saw this and went and parked at the police station and said I wouldn’t go from there till they called in the vans. The police told me it was legal but in my ignorance I stood my ground. So they called the vans but instead of cows there were buffaloes inside.

“Two were dead and the others were cramped inside and injured. They were milch animals.”

Later he decided to raid Deonar Abattoir but was intimidated by its largeness. He called the police again but they were in no mood to humour him. “It’s legal,” they repeated.

After this misadventure Sharma did some research and discovered that the slaughter of useless bullocks and buffaloes was legal in Maharashtra.

“How can a government in India give permission to slaughter bulls?” he asks rhetorically. “What is the difference between cows and bulls? They come from cows!”

His mission to save cows all over India was also a voyage of discovery. He says he found that most traders slaughtered healthy animals and pregnant cows. “The pregnant cow’s unborn calf meat is very soft,” he says. “It’s considered a delicacy and is the costliest.”

However the traders deny this charge.  “How can we slaughter pregnant cows?” Sheikh asks. “It’s forbidden by our religion too. Besides, there are officers who inspect the animals before they are sent for slaughter.”

But Sharma insists that even calves were slaughtered for leather. “They pour boiling water over the calf. If hot water is poured on human skin it swells like thin jelly. It becomes very tender. Likewise when you pour hot water over a calf, the skin comes off like a sweater.” Calf leather is premium leather, used to make gloves, jackets, ladies’ purses, wallets and cowboy shoes.

The information hardened his resolve, he says. Sharma became ever more active. That was when the shooting took place in Navi Mumbai. “The butchers hit the front glass of my jeep,” he said. “I fell out of it and then someone from behind fired a bullet at me but missed.”

On the day the law was passed he was in the Metro travelling from Gurgaon to Connaught Place. When he received the message, he got down at the next station and sat on the platform.

“I cried for some time,” he said. “They were tears of happiness.”

***

Like Sharma, for many people in India, the cow is not an animal. It is their sacred mother and they cannot contemplate eating beef.

Émile Durkheim defined “sacred things” as “those which the interdictions protect and isolate.” But the cow was not always sacred. Historian D. N. Jha in The Myth of the Holy Cow provided historical evidence that cow meat was eaten in Vedic times. He mentions that in Satapatha Brahmana (III.1.2.21), the sage Yajnavalkya expresses a strong preference for the tender cut of beef. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (VI.4.18), he says, prescribes that a couple desirous of learned and long-lived progeny eat rice with a stew of veal before intercourse. In the early centuries of the Christian era, the physicians and ayurveda icons Charaka and Sushruta, and later Vagbhata (7th century), refer to the therapeutic uses of beef; Sushruta speaks of the pregnant woman’s craving for ox meat which he considered pure (pavitra).

There is also a verse in the Dharamshastra that says, “The cows and bulls are sacred animals and therefore should be eaten.”

It was with the rise of Jainism and Buddism that animal sacrifice started to be condemned. In his book The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why They Became Untouchables?, B. R. Ambedkar traced the politics behind the rejection of cow meat by Brahmins for whom earlier “every day was a beef steak day”.

Ambedkar writes: “If the Buddhist Bhikshus did eat meat, the Brahmins had no reason to give it up. Why then did the Brahmins give up meat-eating and become vegetarians? It was because they did not want to put themselves merely on the same footing in the eyes of the public as the Buddhist Bhikshus.”

Uttam Maheshwari says the secret of his lacquered skin is cow’s ghee. He is a cow therapy specialist who prescribes cow ghee for every disease: heart attack, brain clot, even cancer.

Uttam Maheshwari says the secret of his lacquered skin is cow’s ghee. He is a cow therapy specialist who prescribes cow ghee for every disease: heart attack, brain clot, even cancer.

His mother once had a paralytic attack. Maheshwari put two drops of cow’s ghee into her nostrils. “In fifteen minutes, her face came back to normal,” he said. Another time he put two drops of ghee into the nostrils of a patient who had been in a coma for three months. “The patient regained consciousness in three hours.”

He also believes that Milkha Singh became famous because he ate cow ghee.

“In the film, when the police stop Milkha from taking two cans of ghee, what does he do? He drinks the entire ghee! Milkha Singh drank two kilograms of ghee, that’s why the entire country knows him today.”

Maheshwari holds seminars across the country to extol the virtues of five products: cow’s milk, cow ghee, yoghurt, cow urine, and cow dung.

Tell me one such living or non-living thing in which you invest grass and get ambrosia in return?

“Tell me one such living or non-living thing in which you invest grass and get ambrosia in return?” Maheshwari is convinced there is a psychic relationship between the animals and its users.

“According to our tradition, cow’s milk is sattvic, buffalo milk is tamasic, and goat milk is rajasic,” he says. Maheshwari’s reference is to the ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita, which specifies that cow’s milk has less fat, while buffalo’s milk had more fat which made people indolent and lethargic.

“People who drank buffalo milk could never rise in the world. People who drank goat’s milk wreaked havoc on the world. For example, buffalo milk was used in Africa, so they remained steeped in darkness. Goat milk was used in Jerusalem by all communities, Jews, Christians or Muslims. All three did great damage to the world. Like the goat that destroys the entire vegetation while grazing, the goat milk drinkers have damaged the world.”

Maheshwari completely bypasses the fact that the domestic buffalo originated in South and Southeast Asia and China. The African Cape buffalo is not closely related to the Asian species and has never been domesticated. It is both unpredictable and dangerous. So the chance of Africans using buffalo milk is precisely zero. But according to Maheshwari, the sacred nature of cows’ products were discovered first by Indians who have the attributes of life-proliferating cows.

“When cows, buffaloes and goats are taken by a cowherd for grazing in the forest and a wild animal attacks him, the buffalo runs away, the goat runs away, only the cow tries to protect the cowherd. When a buffalo eats grass it pulls it from the root, the goat eats even the branches, but the cow eats only the top part as if it’s pruning it like a gardener.”

Vilas Sonawane, the advisor of Maha Mumbai Shetkari Sangharsh Samiti, refutes this theory. According to him only goats were destructive and the reason was that both cows and buffaloes ate only green grass, so they ate the top part, while a goat could eat dry grass or roots, so it destroyed the soil by uprooting plants. “Cows are no different from buffaloes, he says. “They have the same feeding habits.”

Maheshwari’s cow therapy owes its discovery to a failed cumin crop in Rajasthan in the early Nineties. His father, like everyone else in his village, grew cumin on his land. One year the entire crop failed except for Maheshwari’s father’s. “He found that while everyone else had used chemical pesticide, he alone had used cow dung.

“Cumin is very delicate. If there is an outbreak of disease then in two days the entire crop is destroyed. My father deduced that if cow dung can protect such a fragile crop from disease then it can save human beings too.”

According to Maheshwari, the reason behind the magical quality of cow’s product is it energy or prana.

“Have you heard the term godhuli? When a cow returns home after grazing the whole day, the dust it raises while walking is called godhuli. It is considered the most auspicious time. The same cow goes in the morning and raises dust but it’s not called godhuli. Why? It’s because when cows graze the whole day, they absorb the sun rays through the horns. This energy is transmitted to the earth through its hooves. That’s why when bulls are used for ploughing, the soil does not need fertiliser.”

He says he also asked Tihar Jail inmates to go around a cow 10 times. “At the end the visiting doctor recorded an increase of energy levels by eight times.”

***

A ban on cow slaughter is a desirable goal for the Indian state to pursue under Article 48 of the Constitution under Directive Principles. But the legal justification is framed in terms of its value in animal husbandry rather than religious belief.

The VHP exploited this sentiment and modelled itself as a Hindu nationalist organisation whose aim was a renaissance of Hinduism. In 1966, it began a campaign against cow slaughter, which was used by the Jan Sangh, the present ruling BJP’s parent, in the 1966-67 election to build up a Hindu vote base.

In his autobiography I Too Had A Dream, Verghese Kurien—who was part of a government committee to look into cow protection in 1967—wrote this about RSS leader M. S. Golwalkar, who was also a part of the committee: “‘I started a petition to ban cow slaughter actually to embarrass the government,’ he began explaining to me in private. ‘I decided to collect a million signatures for this to submit to the Rashtrapati. In connection with this work I travelled across the country to see how the campaign was progressing. My travels once took me to a village in Uttar Pradesh. There I saw in one house, a woman, who having fed and sent off her husband to work and her two children to school, took this petition and went from house to house to collect signatures in that blazing summer sun. I wondered to myself why this woman should take such pains. She was not crazy to be doing this. This is when I realised that the woman was actually doing it for her cow, which was her bread and butter, and I realized how much potential the cow has’.”

The appeals for cow protection, by implication, were also directed against the Muslims, as only Muslims are associated with beef eating and trade.

At a pre-poll rally in Uttar Pradesh, Narendra Modi attacked beef export and said that the country needed a green revolution, not a pink one.

“When animals are slaughtered, the colour of their flesh is pink,” he said. “The government in Delhi is giving subsidies to those who are carrying out this slaughter.” Later, cow protection appeared as one of the main points in the BJP’s election manifesto.

Akhtar Qureshi, a beef trader, says, “Prime Minister Modi said in Parliament that he is a small guy who has made it big. Earlier he was a waiter in a tea shop. I want to tell him, he is still a waiter in a tea shop. He is serving tea to (RSS chief) Mohan Bhagwat now.”

***

R.C. Joshi has a gentle voice and his dainty hands look manicured. He even drinks coconut water with its meat cut in small pieces.

The demeanour is deceptive. Joshi was behind the ban on possession of beef and making it a non-bailable crime. According to the new law, if you are found with one kilogram of beef in your fridge, you can be jailed for five years.

“There is a lot of money in the beef industry. You buy one animal for Rs 3,000 and when you sell its hide, meat, bone, organs, hooves, you get around Rs 30,000. So there is a lot of money to give officials and politicians. It would have been easy to get bail. Moreover, it’s the drivers of the vans who are mostly caught.  Most often they give a fake address on their bail petition and abscond. If it’s a non-bailable offence, they would refuse to transport beef.”

At the same time, if you have the money you can import a Ferrari to India from abroad but you cannot buy beef from Goa. “How do you know beef is from Andhra or Goa and not illegally slaughtered here? Bills can be forged.”

Joshi, who is an advocate and chairman of the Viniyog Trust, does not want loopholes in a cause for which he has been fighting 20 years. He is saving cows for agriculture.

“I am not fighting for bulls because of the belief that it carries the whole world on its horns.”

His involvement dates back to 1992 when Sunderlal Patwa, chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, wanted a blanket ban on cow slaughter. According to the 1958 Supreme Court judgment, cow slaughter was banned but useless bulls and bullocks could be slaughtered. “In the Constitution, the word cows is used, which should mean the entire clan, including bulls and bullocks. If you want to ban lion hunting, you don’t mention lioness separately.”

Anyway, only cow slaughter was banned. So any state law extending the ban to bulls and bullocks was always challenged. Sunderlal Patwa passed a new law prohibiting the slaughter of bull and bullocks. It was challenged in the high court.

“We argued that the circumstances in 1992 were very different from 1958. Now we were more dependent on cattle for dung and urine as manure. The ill effects of chemical fertilisers had come to the fore.”

Some of the amendments Joshi made for this law were setting limits for transportation, transferring the burden of proof to the accused. The high court upheld the law but it was challenged in the Supreme Court and cancelled.

Shortly after, there was a case in Gujarat where a cow protector Gita Rambhia was killed by butchers. “She was dragged from an auto and killed with a cleaver one afternoon,” says Joshi.

After this incident there was an uproar and the Congress chief minister Chimanbhai Patel imposed a blanket ban on cow slaughter. It was rejected by the High Court. The state government challenged it in the Supreme Court at Joshi’s instigation. The judgment in 2005 cancelled the 1958 ruling and said states may pass a law banning the slaughter of bull and bullocks if they wanted.

Using the case of Punjab, during the trial Joshi and his team argued that chemical fertilisers had made its soil barren.

“Chemical fertilisers act as steroids. The soil becomes addicted. Chemicals that are not soluble harden the soil. If the soil is hard you cannot plough it using bullocks. You have to use a tractor but the tractor digs the land very deep and the natural moisture evaporates making it drier. If there is a short supply of water then the layer of soil cannot be moistened and in the absence of rain the entire crop is destroyed.”

It was based on these arguments that this case was won in 2005.

In Maharashtra the law was passed in 1995 by the Shiv Sena government but it was put in cold storage by subsequent Congress governments.  The BJP passed it after it came to power.

Joshi also wants to stop beef export. He thinks that if the market for big animal meat, even buffalo, is open, there are chances of illegal trade. There are forensic labs for differentiating cow and buffalo meat but not for bull and cow.

“The government gives the argument that beef is earning dollars. But now we have almost $300 billion worth of foreign reserves. It’s not like 1992.”

Joshi is referring to the Narasimha Rao government when the foreign reserve crunch forced the government to relax beef export. The government abolished the licensing and allowed anybody who had the money to install a factory and sell beef.

“Now our export has expanded. We don’t need dollars stained with animals’ blood and flesh.”

The International Business Times reported in 2013 that “over the past four years, beef exports have surged by more than 44 per cent … meat produced by registered slaughterhouses jumped from 5,57,000 tonnes in 2008 to 805,000 tonnes in 2011. Income is expected to reach Rs 18 billion (Rs 1,800 crore) this year.”

***

Shahid Sheikh’s blue-shirt demeanour is intact. But he has lost weight.

“We don’t eat vegetables much,” he says. “It does not fill your stomach. It has been difficult to survive without beef. We used to have beef kurma twice a day. We even put beef in our dal.”

In Deonar, the traders lifted their self-imposed strike and resumed business of buffalo meat on April 1. Many daily workers were suffering without work. And it was clear that a strike was counter-productive. This consideration was also behind their hesitation to call a blanket strike on all non-vegetarian food, including chicken and mutton.

“The chicken, mutton and fish traders were ready,” said Sheikh. “They were waiting for our final call. But we thought why should we drag others into our pit? Already so many people are suffering without wages.”

On March 14, Haryana also banned beef and made cow slaughter a non-bailable offence. Its agriculture minister Om Prakash Dhankar announced that they would set up laboratories to differentiate beef from the meat of other animals. There were reports from the environment ministry of thousands of demands to make the cow the national symbol replacing the tiger.

In Rajasthan state medical and health minister Rajendra Rathore inaugurated a cow urine refinery while Maneka Gandhi mooted the plan to clean the government offices with gaunyl, a cleaner made with cow urine extracts. According to a report in the Economic Times, Maneka said that it was a “win-win” situation for everyone. “No harm to janitors by way of daily exposure to chemicals, and cows will be valued more,” she said.

Meanwhile, an emissary from the traders along with the All India Milli Council went to meet BJP state president Raosaheb Danve and proposed the import of Jersey cows. He said this would preserve the faith of the Hindus.

If you can import Rolls Royce, why can’t you import beef?

Besides, several PILs were filed against the law. Ketan Tirodkar, a petitioner put it like this, “If you can import Rolls Royce, why can’t you import beef?”

Now, Deonar’s shelters are filled with buffaloes. There is trepidation among traders about buffalo meat. Only 150 were slaughtered on the first day, compared to the average of 450 bulls.  It’s bad for business as well as taste.

“Buffalo meat has more fat,” said Sheikh. “It is grainy and chewy. Bulls did hard labour in the field hence their meat was lean, buffaloes are used only for giving milk in Maharashtra and put on weight sitting at home.”