Traders keep out of Sonepur cattle fair

Published on Nov 27, 2018 11:10 PM IST

Stricter enforcement of India’s Wildlife Act of 1972 in recent years has ensured that elephants, other wild animals and birds are no longer traded at the fair, which is held at the confluence of Ganges and Gandak in November and December.

Stricter enforcement of India’s Wildlife Act of 1972 in recent years has ensured that elephants, other wild animals and birds are no longer traded at the fair, which is held at the confluence of Ganges and Gandak in November and December.(File Photo/Representational Image)
Stricter enforcement of India’s Wildlife Act of 1972 in recent years has ensured that elephants, other wild animals and birds are no longer traded at the fair, which is held at the confluence of Ganges and Gandak in November and December.(File Photo/Representational Image)
Hindustan Times | ByRajesh Kumar Thakur

Sipping tea at an eatery, Brajendra Singh, resident of Bihar’s Sonepur, idles most of his time away. The Sonepur cattle fair kicked off earlier this week and as over thousands of years, it is a colourful mélange of richly bedecked horses, magicians, dancers and artists.

Stricter enforcement of India’s Wildlife Act of 1972 in recent years has ensured that elephants, other wild animals and birds are no longer traded at the fair, which is held at the confluence of Ganges and Gandak in November and December. The state government of Bihar has introduced new attractions like martial arts at the event which is increasingly turning into a popular cultural festival which attracts hundreds of foreign tourists.

But it’s not the missing wildlife or the inclusion of cultural events at the traditional livestock fair, that Brajendra Singh is morose about.

The Centre’s ban on the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals statutes, coupled with growing attacks by ‘cow vigilante’ groups has robbed the livelihood of hundreds of cattle traders and brokers like Singh: men who wait for 11 long months for the Sonepur fair, only to earn enough to sustain themselves and their families for a year and save a bit on the side.

Over the last four to five years, the participation of cattle traders has dwindled so rapidly that at this year’s edition, the once popular cattle-broker, Brajendra Singh, has no business.

Sonepur may be famous as Asia’s largest livestock fair, says Singh, but you will hardly find cattle here. “Traders from several states, mainly Punjab, Haryana and Assam, who were regulars here, have stopped coming,” adds another trader, Asharfi Rai. “The fear of cow vigilante groups has prevented several farmers from sending their livestock to the fair.”

Even before central legislation banning the sale and purchase of cows for slaughter kicked into effect in 2017, several cattle traders travelling to the fair with their beasts were reportedly attacked and harassed.

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