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Who moved my beef? That’s the question most Indians are asking now.

They, and by that I mean the worthies in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, should have let sleeping cows–or bullocks or buffaloes or whatever–lie. Instead they stirred up a hornet’s nest going back 57 years to find the right legislation and add to it. It’s bound to sting them. It’s bound to leave them with egg—or beef if you like—on their faces.

They say there are far too many heads of sickly cattle being brought to markets to be sold as slaughter animals. This has to stop. So, instead of stopping the cattle from falling sick or making sure that they are nursed back to health before being sold, they are stopping the market itself. That’s putting the cart before the cow, if you ask me.

For a thousand years, better make that two thousand years, cattle have been bought and sold at markets across the country. It is usually a festive atmosphere at these cattle fairs. Hundreds of thousands of people make a living out of these markets. Some are just cowherds, some ‘chaiwallahs’—remember ‘The Chaiwallah’?—some are truck drivers. And there are agents or middle men who arrange the sale-purchase of the cattle. The last-named activity is strictly a ‘Baniya’ persuasion although in different segments. Remember the ‘Baniya’?

Now the government wants to get rid of the middle man. “Go, get them from the breeder,” it tells the meat trader, “because from now on it will be from farm to fork.” Somebody in the ministry really liked that expression ‘farm to fork’ without knowing what it meant. You can possibly go to a tomato farm, buy the stuff, bring it home and start cooking. But how do you propose to go to a livestock breeder or a dairy farm, buy a bull, bring it home and start cooking? Or is it the government’s purpose to turn every meat eater into a slaughterer? After all it is no sin if you kill to eat. A nation without sinners! Now, that’s a great idea!

To make sure that no cattle is sold to slaughter at markets, the ministry wants the trader to make five copies of each document of sale and distribute them to various offices. The market committee will verify each cow or bull for its age, health etc. And all these past three years we were told that this government is for more governance than government! Cow vigilantes are already sharpening their knives.

Ever since the slaughter issue became public, my little brain has been struggling to tell me how it would have handled the situation differently. Okay, here goes:

It is no big secret that a good percentage of cattle brought to our markets are not in the best of health. Since animals can’t talk and since we don’t practice euthanasia even on humans, we can only conjecture what must be going through their minds. And that would be: “If only someone will put an end to my misery.” In that sense, the slaughter could be seen as an act of piety.

The ministry is concerned about unhealthy animals in the market. But is it concerned about how they became unhealthy in the first place? If yes, what is it going to do about it? No mandarin is forthcoming on this.

And if animals for slaughter should not be brought to these markets, what prevents the ministry from creating new markets exclusively for such cattle? And these markets can also be empowered to check on the health of these animals before they are auctioned off or sold. Will someone in the ministry want to look at this idea?


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