Meat of the matter: Desert Ship Camel

Lata Jain

The Indian camel is the pride and source of livelihood in north India especially Rajasthan. As children one remembers reading, “camel as the Ship of the desert”. If statistics are to be believed it is now sinking ship of the desert as they are vanishing in huge numbers.

The camel is a vitally integral part of rural economies in several parts of northern India. Since the camel has been used as transport from immemorial times, this solves age-old commuting problems in rural India. In this ‘novel bus’, the driver sits on the camel with the reins. Each camel bus can transport a maximum of 80 children.  Since the Indian camel contributes so generously to the enrichment of the lives and health of Indians, it is a major disaster in the making for the drastic fall in the numbers of Indian camels on account of loss of pastureland and unremitting slaughter of camels for meat and leather. In some remote villages of Rajastan this ship is still used to deliver letters. Camels are used to deliver goods and also to draw water from deep wells. Tourists enjoy the camel ride in deserts and even in the metros.

Some will say that the course of human history and civilization would have been vastly different without that noble, loyal and intelligent animal, the horse.  Much the same thing could be said of another noble, beautiful and intelligent animal, the camel.  In countless caravanserais which traversed difficult terrain between continents, the camel, that ‘Ship of the Desert’, was the very artery of much trade, commerce, exchange of ideas and development of civilizations across the ancient world.

They are slaughtered in their thousands on the occasion of the religious festival of Bakrid, which falls towards the end of a calendar year. This particular festival commemorates the Abrahamic sacrifice of a goat based upon the story of Abraham and Isaac pertaining to the custom of first human, and then animal, sacrifice. It is said that, in seventh century Arabia, the festival had a prominent societal aspect in that quantities of meat were distributed amongst rural populations.

Today, because of ruthless exploitation and mass killing, the camel—especially in India—faces possible extinction.   According to Antony Kuriakose writing in ‘Sunday Herald’ Bangalore dated 7 November 2010, the number of camels brought in at the annual Pushkar Camel Fair used to be around 50,000 in 1999; in 2009, they were less than 20,000.

“Amongst the countries having the highest camel population in the world, India once stood third (1,520 million) after Somalia (6000 million) and Sudan (2,856 million).  But now the Indian camel population is estimated to be only about half a million.”  Indeed, some put it at closer to 40,000.

“The reasons for this alarming dip in camel population are many—shrinking of pastureland,, rising expenses and the animals being slaughtered for their meat.”

Because of the ban the camel is smuggled to the states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Kerala. They are also smuggled to Bihar and Bangladesh. This delicacy of camel meat is enjoyed by the rich. Hyderabad city has a flourishing business of camel trade as the GHMC turns a blind eye to this slaughter and trade. The animals are taken in trucks through roads to Haryana. It is a pathetic scene to see the legs of the camel tied mercilessly and transported in trucks. They are slaughtered in Baghpat and then meat sent to Hyderabad which has the biggest market of the meat of these animals.

The camels are brought from Rajasthan and Gujarat a couple of months ago and sold at an auction in Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy districts. Each camel is sold between `40,000 -`50,000 this year, said mangilalji, a camel trader from Rajasthan. A kilo of camel meat can cost up to Rs.150-`200. The meat is sold in Dabeerpura, Shah Ali Banda, Hussaini Alam, Bandlaguda, Charminar, Doodh Bowli, Barkas, Misri Gunj, Riyasatnagar etc. The outlets display the raw meat prominently with a lot of decorations, he added. Mahesh Agarwal, a member of People for Animals, alleged that the illegal trade of camels and sale of camel meat was going on at a large scale at Narsingi near Agricultural Market Committee yard.

There’s no hemming and hawing around the fact that the consumption of animal products is mentioned in the Qur’an

Not a lot of people know this but the Prophet even forbade the use of animal skins. He also denounced the beating of animals and forbade striking, branding or marking them on the face. He was known to scold those who mistreated animals and praise those who showed them kindness. He even instituted radical changes against the barbaric practices of the Arabs of the Jahilliyah (age of ignorance) by condemning cutting tails and humps off living camels for food, notching and slitting their ears and placing painful rings around their necks.

The Prophet (S) forbade all living creatures to be slaughtered while tied up and bound.”

-Narrated by Shaddad ibn Aws. Muslim; Vol. 2; Chapter 11; Section on ‘Slaying’; 10:739, verse 151.  Hadith No. 643.  Also Hadith No. 4817.

Camels are indeed restrained before and during slaughter. During transport and slaughter, they also suffer unconscionably.  They take a long time to die, much longer than one hour, often drowning in their own blood.  The manner in which they are restrained and killed violates Islamic injunctions against restraining an animal prior to slaughter as well as causing it pain during slaughter.

Several verses within the Holy Qur’an illustrate this:

There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end. (Sura 6:38)

The Qur’an is adamant that animals not be looked at as mere resources, and that they form communities and groups just like human beings. Islamic teachings paint animals as our equals, and constantly highlight s their rights to have a peaceful life.

The Prophet Mohammed was notoriously known to perpetuate this message, and is quoted in several Hadith scriptures on the importance of compassion towards animals.

Though the Rajasthan government has passed laws banning the sale, trade of camels, organized smugglers with the help of the police manage to smuggle herds of camels across the country. There is a burgeoning market for this illegal trade as GHMC turns a blind eye to the entire affair.

Will there be any change in slaughter of these animals if the law agencies decide to enforce the law, this Bakrid?

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