Every Wednesday, until two weeks ago, farmers from Dhanaura, adjoining villages and beyond would sell at least 500 spent (no longer productive) buffaloes to meat traders at this licenced weekly market in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr, about 80 km from Delhi. Not anymore.
On March 29, the second Wednesday since the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government launched its crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses, it was not business as usual at Dhanaura’s otherwise busy mandi spread over 1.5 acre off Yamuna Expressway. Fear of the unknown has set in at the market.
Farmer Pappu Singh, from Jewar near Noida, did not find any customers for his three buffaloes despite stationing himself at the mandi for four hours since 5.30 am. The 50-year-old father of three said before the crackdown, he would find it difficult to get space to stand in the overcrowded market which operates from 5am to 10am.
“My buffaloes stopped giving milk earlier this month. It is for the first time in last 10 years when I have not been able to sell one in two weeks. I have to buy seeds for the next season and I have no money left,” said Singh.
In the aftermath of the crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses, UP’s 20 weekly cattle markets have seen a drastic fall in business. The state supports about 15% of India’s total livestock population — of this, 21% are buffaloes. UP is home to 2.33 crore households which are dependent on agriculture, directly or indirectly, according to the agriculture department.
Generally, farmers of the region sell their unproductive buffaloes and buy new ones before monsoon. Many farmers with spent buffaloes are now waiting for the fear of vigilantes to end and administrative directions before heading to the cattle markets.
Mangat Ram, a farmer from Gangrol village near Dhanaura market, said, “In the last few days, several groups of people who call themselves ‘Yogi ke log’ (Yogi’s men) stop our mini-trucks saying no one can now do “kaatne ka kaam” (meat business). At times, police are also with them. This has triggered fear among farmers and cattle traders.”
Hands forced, some farmers are even willing to sell their cattle at a lower price. “Today, I am ready to sell a buffalo that would fetch me Rs 30,000 for Rs 20,000. But there are no takers,” said Devendra Sharma, a farmer from Bulandshahr. “Why would I spend Rs 300 per day to feed an unproductive animal?”
Apart from those from Dhanaura, Fatehpur, Gangrol, Nithari and Saleempur villages with majority Hindu population, farmers from Haryana and Rajasthan too used to frequent the weekly market.
Jitendra Kumar, who operates the Dhanaura market, feared the trade would be finished if the “harassment” continued. “Last week we could sell 50 buffaloes and this time not more than six. Before this crackdown, selling 500-plus animals was normal. It is not the government or the chief minister, it is the local police and administration unleashing terror on those who are a part of the legal business,” said Kumar.
The farmers sell their cattle directly or through middlemen, mostly Muslims. The traders, after purchasing animals at these weekly markets regulated by municipal bodies, transport them to slaughterhouses. The buyer and the seller are given receipts after paying municipality tax.
Mohd Rafi, a cattle sales middlemen from Khurja, about 20 km from the market, said, “If I bring four buffaloes from farmers and want to sell them at a mandi, there is a chance that police and self-styled vigilantes will stop me on the way. I have to pay them Rs 2,000 or face harassment, which may include a trip to a police station.”
At the Gulaothi weekly cattle market in Bulandshahr that operates every Monday, only 10 to 15 animals were sold this week, down from the normal sale of around 2,000. Similar reports came in from Zubair Ganj cattle mandi in Faizabad district. The Zubair Ganj cattle market is the biggest in Uttar Pradesh, followed by the Gulaothi market.
In the crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses across UP, hundreds of units have been sealed across the state — mostly in Meerut, Bulandshahr, Aligarh and Agra in western UP — in the last 10 days. Buffalo meat traders, those dealing with chicken, mutton and eggs have started a strike since Monday in various parts of the state against the crackdown.
Despite repeated attempts, Bulandshahr district magistrate Aunjaneya Kumar Singh and senior superintendent of police Sonia Singh could not be reached for comment.
Maan Singh Chauhan, the additional SP of Bulandshahr, said, “We will take action when we receive complaints of harassment.”