Picketing on West Bengal’s roads and highways leading to the Bangladesh border, young men from Bharatiya Janata Party-led groups stop cattle-ferrying trucks, inform police and sometimes release cows by the hundreds.
After Maharashtra enforced a ban on cattle slaughter last week and with neighbouring Jharkhand preparing to follow suit, the BJP is attempting to discourage the killing of cows in West Bengal, said sources.
India is the world's second largest beef exporter, but groups close to the BJP oppose cow slaughter as the animal is considered sacred by many Hindus.
The party has formed rapid action groups, each comprising 50 young men, in every district of the state and these units are screening the national and state highways to prevent the ferrying of cows to Bangladesh for slaughter, a business worth more than Rs 15,000 crore.
While West Bengal allows slaughter of cattle with a “fit for slaughter” certificate, BJP leaders cite violation of court directives regarding cow transport to stop trucks and release the animals.
“Cows are trafficked to Bangladesh from Bengal illegally by the thousands every day. So we are in fact helping the law, not breaking it,” said Subrata Gupta, convener of BJP’s cow development cell in West Bengal. “If sometimes cows are released, it is the spontaneous act of the people.”
Experts say West Bengal, which shares a porous border with Bangladesh, has become the biggest hub for cattle smuggling because of the high demand for beef in the neighbouring nation. Cattle from almost all over the country are sent to Bengal to be pushed into Bangladesh where they are called “gifts on hooves from India”.
BJP leaders say as the Left Front and Trinamool Congress governments turned a blind eye to the mushrooming of slaughterhouses in the state, the party is left with no choice but to go for drastic measures.
Cow slaughter is a sensitive issue in West Bengal with Muslims and Christians comprising about 29% of the population.
“The BJP is pushing RSS agenda in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and even trying it in Bengal,” said Siddiqullah Chowdhury, general secretary of Jamiat Ulema-e Hind, an organisation of Islamic scholars.
In January, police arrested about a dozen rapid action group members after they blocked trucks in West Bengal’s Barasat city and released nearly 200 cows. A week later, trucks laden with 250 cows were stopped in Bongaon, before they could reach Bangladesh.
“The BJP is pushing RSS agenda in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and even trying it in Bengal,” said Siddiqullah Chowdhury, general secretary of Jamiat Ulema-e Hind, an organisation of Islamic scholars. “Not only meat, but the hide is used as leather. The leather industry will cripple and the country will lose exports. It is also a fact that beef is a nutritious food for poor Muslims. When the cows grow old, where will they go?"