India’s 200 million Muslims are preparing for a muted Eid al Adha, with congregational prayers still prohibited in mosques while animal sacrifice has become extremely difficult amid the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown.
With over 1.53 million infected and 34,193 deaths as of July 29, India currently has the third highest number of novel coronavirus cases in the world.
The Eid festival of sacrifice has come at a time when almost all states are observing either complete or intermittent lockdown. While local governments have begun to open up certain services and offices, most other activities, including organising livestock markets and transporting animals between and even within some states continue to be restricted.
As a result, fewer animals are expected to be slaughtered this year as many Muslims are not able to buy livestock. Alternatively, some are going online to buy livestock or taking a share in bigger animals (mostly water buffalos) wherever it’s possible to slaughter them.
THE BUSINESS SIDE OF IT
Religious obligations aside, Eid al Adha is a huge business in India for those in the supply chain – from the livestock farmers to the traders and suppliers who buy and transport the animals for sale to bigger cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bengaluru.
Industry sources say Maharashtra alone does a business of around 5 billion rupees ($66.73 million) every year, with more than 1.5 million goats and sheep and 100,000 buffalos traded and slaughtered during Eid al Adha.
“In Mumbai, there were about 12,000-13,000 buffalos and 170,000-180,000 goats and sheep which came to Deonar abattoir last year during Eid al Adha. Goats and sheep are also sold outside Deonar …. if you take that, it will come to around 300,000,” said Imran Babu Qureshi, national vice president of the All India Jamiatul Quresh, a social organisation of the Quresh Community which is mainly in the meat business.
The ongoing ban on holding livestock markets has impacted India’s rural economy and its farmers the most.
“They are anyway affected due to the coronavirus. They do cultivation but simultaneously also rear goats and buffalos, hoping that they will make some money during Eid al Adha. But now, due to restriction on the livestock market and transportation of animals, they are not able to sell their animals,” said Imran.
Wasim Khan, a Mumbai-based trader who sources animals from farmers and suppliers for Eid al Adha agrees that farmers are unable to get a good price for their animals, with many forced to sell at much lower prices.
“Farmers are the worst affected. Many farmers told us they are not even able to recover the cost of rearing and fodder. They used to ask for 30,000 rupees ($400) for a goat but are now forced to sell at 18,000 or 20,000 rupees,” he said.
Rural traders who generally make a good profit during this time are uncertain of making any money as transportation of the animals to bigger cities and towns have become very risky and difficult at a time when many states have sealed off their borders.
Barring a few, Indian states that have substantial Muslim populations, including Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana and Karnataka, have imposed some form of restriction on animal slaughtering and transportation during Eid al Adha this year.
Maharashtra, which is the most affected state, has issued guidelines asking Muslims to celebrate the festival in a low-key manner by offering Eid prayers at home. It has also prohibited makeshift mandis (animal markets) in the city and has urged Muslims to hold symbolic sacrifice if possible. However, the government has allowed buying animals online or over the phone.
Imran said a symbolic sacrifice of animals is not permissible in Islam. “How will online sacrifice happen? It’s not feasible. They need to issue new guidelines.”
Dr. Azimuddin, a Mumbai-based social worker and educationist, told Salaam Gateway that people are very worried because there is no clear-cut message from the government.
“Online is good to hear but practically it’s very difficult because you have to check if the animal has two teeth or not, whether it’s physically fit or some defect is there, etc. There is no guarantee that the animal you buy online will be good,” he said, adding that even if you want to slaughter at home, you would need police permission.
“Today, people are scared to buy animals. They are not sure whether they will be able to slaughter the animal or not,” said Dr. Azimuddin.
Wasim Khan, who has been in the business since 2002, said he is selling animals online for the first time this year as there is a restriction on organising animal markets in Mumbai.
“We are selling animals through WhatsApp. We send pictures or videos of animals to people. If they like them, we send the animals to their doorsteps,” he said.
Many traders and individual buyers who have booked online told Salaam Gateway they have been stopped at state borders and city entry points while bringing animals on tempos or trucks. A large number of vehicles carrying animals are still stuck at borders and checkpoints, as of this writing.
“We have some 8-10 vehicles stuck at the borders as police are not allowing them to come in. Government is saying us to sell online but how will you sell online if animals are not allowed to enter the city,” said Khan, who has managed to sell all the 2,000 animals that he brought from neighbouring states like Gujarat and Rajasthan some 10 days back.
As per government guidelines, a lot of people bought animals online and kept them in farmhouses. “But when they are bringing those animals into the city, police are stopping and charging them a fine. First, they stopped city entry points but now have sealed the state borders. If animals won’t come, then what will people buy,” asked Imran.
Another trader from Kalyan, a suburb of Mumbai, said they had managed to get some stock initially from a neighbouring state but are now facing a lot of difficulties in getting the animals into the state.
“Whatever stock we have managed to source locally and bring from neighbouring states some 10 days back we are selling that now. We have requirements for more stock but we are not able to source them from other states,” said Zeeshan Mulla, who is mainly into dairy farming but gets into the livestock business for a month during Eid al Adha.
He used to sell around 225 goats annually but this year has managed to get only 100 bookings for goats. “This year, supply, as well as demand, are less due to coronavirus. People don’t have money and many have returned to their native places.”
Zeeshan said prices of goat and sheep were low some three or four days ago but have now started to increase as supply has halted.
“Animals are not coming from other states. So, people are selling whatever available here and as a result of that, prices have increased by 10%,” he said, adding that a lot of big traders and suppliers from Gujrat and Rajasthan didn’t take stock this year as they were unsure if they would be able to transport or sell the animals.
SHARE IN A SACRIFICE
Given the difficulties in getting animals into the cities, many Muslims are opting to take shares in bigger animals and doing the sacrifice in other states and rural areas where restrictions are more relaxed.
Mumbai-based Islamic finance trainer Nikhat Ashraf Mohamedy, who is also associated with social organisations Be Human Foundation and Baitul Hikmah Consultancy, said they are organising animal sacrifice in the states of West Bengal and Gujarat.
“People can pay here and we do the slaughtering in those states and distribute the meat among the poor. We generally used to do it for our family members who stay abroad but this time we have extended this facility to external people as well,” she said.
People are looking at it as an alternative as many are not able to buy or bring animals into the cities, she said.
“So, they are going for this facility of taking share and doing the sacrifice elsewhere…. at least their duty of doing sacrifice is fulfilled,” said Nikhat, adding that they are getting a good response and hope to receive requests for 50-75 big animals this year.
(Reporting by Syed Ameen Kader; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
*CORRECTION made in Para 6 from 1 million buffalos to 100,000 buffalos.
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