The Hindu – A ban and its unequal effects

A visit to a cattle fair in rural Uttar Pradesh reveals the class, caste stratifications inherent in the business

Jacob Koshy

Op/Ed, 5 July 2017. A May notification from the Union Environment Ministry banning the sale of bovines for slaughter at cattle fairs sent a jolt of anxiety among farmers and animal traders across the country.

Farmers trek long distances to these fairs to scout and bargain for oxen, cows, buffaloes and goats and they are an entrenched, effective mode for ensuring that sellers and buyers can access a wide market and the best possible price for their animals.

Cows are liquid assets for many farmers and this means more than just being a source of milk. Farmers, given the myriad risks to agriculture, can be strapped for cash during a drought or even in a good year, when excess production frequently depresses sale prices. Many times, selling an unproductive animal becomes a way to tide over a crisis.

When I visited one of the largest cattle fairs in Pachokhara, a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad district, I saw anxiety prevalent among farmers.

Demonetisation and harassment by gau rakshaks had, over the months, already made commerce hard for them. However, the cattle-sale restrictions in U.P. presented unique challenges of their own.

Privately managed

Cattle markets there are privately managed, unlike, say, in Haryana and Punjab where governments organise fairs. In UP, the fairs are by powerful landowners who lease out land, usually once a week. They take a cut on every transaction and are leagues removed, in status, financial capacity and political clout, from most of the farmers and traders.

The cattle-fair managers I spoke to in Pachokhara were quite worried about the impact of the ban and said that this will impact their business. However they also drew a distinction between the ‘cow’ and all other animals.

They claimed to be completely supportive of having a ban on the sale of cows at the fairs for slaughter purposes, but wanted restrictions to be removed for other types of cattle. However, the average farmer or small-time trader, who wanted to dispose off unproductive cattle, didn’t care about this distinction.

Further, networks of caste and privilege weigh heavily in those markets. At Pachokhara, my photographer-colleague and I were allowed inside the manager’s palatial house but the driver of our car wasn’t. The cattle-fair managers double as arbitrators in disputes over the sale price of their animals and here too hierarchies and proximity to power help.

While it is bad enough that the government imposes arbitrary rules to impede trade, social stratification in villages means its worst impact will be borne by those who are economically and socially disenfranchised.


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