Thirty-three years ago, a non-violent protest against the slaughter of bulls and bullocks started at the gates of the Deonar abattoir. On March 3, the satyagrahis held their last protest. Few Mumbaiites are aware of this, the country’s longest-running satyagraha, which began on January 11, 1982, after a call by Gandhian leader Vinoba Bhave.
As the state recently extended the ban on cow slaughter to calves, bulls and bullocks, the satyagrahis have stopped assembling at the abattoir’s ‘bail (bullock) gate’ for their daily ritual – for three decades, the group would rush towards trucks carrying cattle and feebly stop it from entering the gate. They would shout slogans and offer prayers in Sanskrit, before the police arrested them.
“The cops would bring them in with folded hands. An entry in the registers was made and from 11am to 6pm, one satyagrahi would be politely asked to stay at the station. A different, but familiar face every day,” said MG Inamdar, the station’s senior inspector.
The movement began with hundreds of Gandhians, including Muslims and Jews, working for the Deonar Goraksha Satyagraha Sachalak Samiti. But at midnight on March 3, just five of them – Anna Sahib Jadhav, Pannu Lal Sahu, Sunil Jadhav, Baldevraj Ilwadhi and Amrut Lal – stood in protest one last time.
“Above everything, this satyagraha was a symbol of hope,” said Anna Sahib Jadhav, 81. The group said they managed to bring down the count of cattle brought for slaughter. “From around 1,000 bulls every day three decades ago, to 100 today,” said Amrut Lal.
Over the years, the Gandhians formed bonds not only with the police, but also with the butchers. The initial tension with the butchers, who they claimed burned their hut outside the abattoir and beat them up, is but a blurred memory.
Aslam Qureshi, president of the All India Sheep and Goat Breeders and Dealers Association, said although the ideologies of the two groups are different, the butchers respected their sentiments. “They never behaved violently, which is commendable,” said Qureshi.
The satyagrahis came to Mumbai from different towns. For the many years of protesting, they lived in a modest hall in Sarvodaya Hospital at Ghatkopar and slept on iron cots. Hospital trustee Harish Mehta said the hall has been permanently reserved for the Gandhians.
The group will stay on in the city until a gazette notification on the slaughter ban is issued. “After that, we will join a decade-old satyagraha in Delhi's Ramlila ground, for a central law against cow and bull slaughter,” said Ilwadhi.