Mangalore, August 14: In the frenzy over the alleged increase in “cattle thefts” in Dakshina Kannada district, combined with a plethora of press conferences, vigilante attacks, threats of strikes and raids, it is the legitimate cattle traders — most from minority communities — who are suffering.
More than half of the 28 shops in Mangalore City Corporation buildings and markets have shut down as a result, said Ali Hasan, president, Beef Traders’ Association, Mangalore. “The shopkeepers are not threatened, but the cattle transporters are. Because of this, there are no beef supplies now,” he said.
The association believes that Hindu right-wing groups have used the issue of “cattle thefts” to harass transporters. “Now every transporter is branded a thief, particularly if he is a Muslim,” he said. One such example is Riyaz (name changed), who comes from a family of cattle traders here. Around 10 days ago, he was picked up by Panambur police — based on “information” received — and was thrashed. Two of his toe nails were removed with cutting pliers, he said. Ultimately, a “suspicious behaviour” case was slapped against him. Even though he possesses a valid licence, he has given up the trade after persistent harassment.
There is a noticeable spurt in police action against alleged traffickers and illegal slaughterhouses since the first protests. Since Saturday last, 12 people — seven Muslims, four Christians, one Hindu — have been arrested (four Muslims are absconding) in five different raids across the district. .
Even with these — cow slaughter cases are booked for illegal traffickers — the statistics do not justify the outrage. The police have booked 12 cases of cattle theft till July-end this year, compared to 13 in 2012, and 11 cases in 2011. Whereas, under cow slaughter cases, the tally seems to have reduced to 23 cases this year, down from 63 in 2012, and 70 in 2011.
However, the needle of suspicion is so poised on minority communities that Janata Dal (Secular) Udupi president Gulam Mohammed issued a release on August 5 asking local Khazis to refrain Muslims from eating beef or “supporting cattle thieves”.
Politicising the issue
With a series of statements and visits to the “victims” houses, the Bharatiya Janata Party and groups like the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have blamed the government for the increase in thefts. VHP Karnataka president M.B. Puranik said, “There is an atmosphere of fear due to the thefts. Because the Congress government has said they will not implement the anti-cattle slaughter Bill, thieves have been encouraged to carry out brazen attacks.”
He dismissed police statistics as “false”, blaming them for not “attending” to the complaints given by the organisation. “There have been five thefts in Surathkal itself since June. The statistics don’t show that,” he claimed.
The VHP has repeatedly attributed the decline in cattle population — by over 1.5 lakh cows in five years in the district — to cow slaughter and thefts. However, officials from the Department of Animal Husbandry said the decline was more due to the larger agrarian crisis, where, rearing cows was becoming economically unviable due to increasing costs of labour, feed and reduced grazing space.