By Lalani Perera (Sunday Times)
All animals are sentient beings, with a right to life free from cruelty. However, it is cattle that are mostly saved from slaughter. As the Cattle Protection Trust, an organisation dedicated to cattle welfare states, cattle have for centuries supported farmers to plough fields, given milk to nourish us and drawn overloaded carts for man’s benefit, but are often sold to the butcher when of no use. Therefore the Trust believes there is no better way to pay tribute to an animal that has so faithfully served mankind, than give it shelter in its old age and assure it an honourable death.
Most people save cattle out of compassion.But some save them for selfish reasons, as in expectation of saving a critically ill patient.
Cattle suffer during transport for slaughter -loaded into lorries, tails twisted causing excruciating pain; over-packed, many reach their destinations with broken limbs; some die on the way;some give birth during the journey. We have laws regulating cattle transport. But are they enforced effectively?
We have no laws regulating slaughter methods, unlike in some countries where prior to slaughter animals must be rested overnight, led without force and stunned. In our predominantly Buddhist nation, cattle are bludgeoned alive, feet tied, pressed down with brutal force, while the next victim, perhaps a calf who has witnessed its mother’s agony, watches terrified. Our law prohibits animals being slaughtered in the presence of others awaiting slaughter and requires removal of all signs of slaughter prior to killing the next, but these conditions are violated. A proposal to introduce at least a humane method of slaughter, submitted to the authorities through a court case by animal rights activists in 2012, remains on political desks, stalled due to vested interests.
Saving cattle from slaughter is a meritorious act. But few are aware of the racket behind the sale and the fate of some saved.
There are illegal slaughterhouses operating as “charity farms”, selling cattle at exorbitant prices, after purchasing them cheap from persons who cannot maintain them. During some religious festivals, these “farms” become slaughterhouses. Today many farmers sell their cattle to butchers, unable to maintain them,as pasturelands are acquired for development projects.
Some organisations facilitate cattle release. People hesitate to visit slaughterhouses and face the trauma of selecting one animal from among many, in horrendous abattoirs, where even calves and pregnant cows are found. Some facilitate release as a business, displaying photos of cattle and charging a fee.Some limit their objectives to paper – a caller seeking assistance from one such organization, to save an accident victim cow, to prevent the butcher grabbing it,was bluntly informed that they did not deal in such matters! Organisations that accept saved cattle give them to farmers for agriculture, dairy and organic farming under condition that they will not be slaughtered.
A crucial issue is whether the release is monitored. Non-supervision defeats the objective of release. Some unscrupulous persons undertaking to use them in farming, sell them back to the butcher. Cattle found shelter in some estates were abandoned as the animals were destroying crops. A released cow homed in a kovil had apparently escaped and was found in terrible pain with mouth tied, until rescued by the villagers with help from two volunteers providing the animal with veterinary care. Some taken by a temple were given to others. Food being scarce, the monk depended on rotten vegetables supplied from a nearby market. A cow grievously injured, without veterinary care, until animal welfare volunteers brought a veterinarian, died due to denial of timely treatment. Its carcass lay in the temple premises, with no plan for disposal, until the volunteers paid a drug addict to bury it. Mercifully, the monk did not object to burial in the temple premises.
The Animals Act empowers courts to refer cattle found in illegal slaughterhouses or cruelly transported, to animal welfare organizations, but there are hardly any sanctuaries managed by these organisations. Referring to the lack of places to keep released cattle, then Livestock Minister C.B. Ratnayake, in 2009, sought to divert cattle from slaughterhouses and assure them a productive future, by inviting the public to hand over saved cattle to the National Livestock Development Board farms, but that initiative has not been sustained.
In 2013, then Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana sought the Kolonnawa Municipal Council’s assistance to conduct animal slaughter for Hajj, calling it a “Gawa Gathana Pinkama”, attracting wide condemnation for his indiscretion in calling slaughter a “pinkama.”
There have been several attempts to persuade successive governments to ban cattle slaughter. In January 1979, the Cabinet decided to ban cow and buffalo slaughter, pursuant to then Industries and Science Minister informing of wide public opinion against slaughtering these animals. However, a counter observation by the Rural Industrial Development Minister, that a ban will oblige the government to purchase unproductive animals from farmers and maintain them at State cost and that maimed, blind and old animals slaughtered on humanitarian grounds are more useful if converted to beef, appears to have halted that decision. In May 2009, Wijeyedasa Rajapakshe, M.P. (current Justice and Buddha Sasana Minister) presented a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament to prohibit cattle slaughter. On Vesak Day 2013, Ven Bowatte Indararatana Thera, immolated himself near the Dalada Maligawa, protesting against cattle slaughter. Following this unfortunate incident, the media reported that the then President had requested the Legal Draftsman to prepare legislation prohibiting cattle slaughter. Many were convinced that it was a diversionary ruse to lull those emotionally charged.
Our Animals Act prohibits slaughter of cows under 12 years of age, cows capable of breeding and cows fit for agricultural use; the Butchers Ordinance prohibits slaughter of pregnant and lactating cows. But often such cows are found in slaughterhouses. If those visiting slaughterhouses to save cattle encounter such cows, reporting it to the nearest police station will save many lives, not just one.
The Census and Statistics Department records a decrease in cattle slaughter at licensed slaughterhouses. In 2002 the number was 205,025, which by 2015 had reduced to 167,133. This figure does not reflect the number illegally slaughtered, yet it is encouraging.
The agitation to ban cattle slaughter continues. A decision however, can only be taken by enlightened policymakers – not the average,run of the mill ones, for whom political survival takes precedence over the survival of countless cattle, exploited to the core, for economic gain.
What then are the alternatives? At least, a reduction in the number slaughtered will be some achievement. Reporting prohibited categories found in slaughterhouses, sponsoring an animal to prevent its sale to the butcher, supporting release by establishing government and NGO managed shelters for released cattle and abstaining from consuming beef, will all contribute to such reduction.
Muslims are generally accused of animal cruelty by (Muslim) Butchers in abattoirs. Such butchers must be punished using the law of the land. A read of the paper titled “Proper Application of Halal Slaughter” will give an insight into the Islamic Slaughter Methods to the interested.