Curtains for the Indian Camel?

I.                    Introduction

Some will say that the course of human history and civilisation 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 caravanserai 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 civilisations across the ancient world.

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.

Kuriakose continues:  “The reasons for this alarming dip in camel population are many—shrinking of pastureland (especially the Indira Gandhi Canal in Rajasthan, which has eaten into prime camel pastures converting these into farms), rising expenses and the animals being slaughtered for their meat.”

He also says that camel meat is illegal in India. 

II         Some uses of the camel  

According to Kuriakose, researchers at the National Research Centre on Camel (NRCC) in the eastern district of Bikaner in Rajasthan have developed an anti-wrinkle cream from camel milk.  As well, camel milk is said to help control the onset of diabetes when consumed during the initial stage of the disease.  Researchers have been saying that camel milk is healthier than the milk of cows and goats.  According to figures released by the SP Medical College, Bikaner, one litre of camel milk contains about 52 units of insulin. 

According to a ‘Times of India’ report dated 13 January 2011, a group of Arab researchers are claiming to have developed a medical formula for treating cancer by the use of camel milk and urine.  Apparently, they discovered that the camel’s immune system was rejuvenating itself every time they took samples of its milk and urine, thus making it one of the strongest immune systems among mammals. 

The experiments on mice being treated with a combination of camel’s milk and urine began at Sharjah University and were completed at a cancer institute in Baghdad.  The newspaper report goes on to add that cancer kills 6 million persons every year in the world; and, according to the Arab Cancer Control Association, is the second cause of death in the Arab world after heart disease and communicable diseases.  This formula of camel milk and urine apparently treats leukemia and can also be developed to cure other types of cancer infecting the lung, liver and breast. 

Nor is this all.  The camel is a vitally integral part of rural economies in several parts of northern India. In Churu district of Rajasthan, for instance, a carpenter by profession named Mewaran Jangid has actually developed a school bus driven by a camel (‘The Times of India’, 3 December 2010).  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. Two brackets fixed to the animal’s saddle are connected to the rear of a double-decker unit on four wheels.  Discarded aircraft tyres are used since these are broad and reduce pressure on the sand due to increased surface area.  Each camel bus can transport a maximum of 80 children.  There are five such affordable buses in this area, transporting a total of 400 students every day.

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.

III       Why are camels slaughtered?

They are slaughtered in their thousands on the occasion of the religious festival of Bakr’Id, 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.  Thus, the religious aspects of this sacrifice are open to an interpretation which emphasises spiritual development through the sacrifice of base passions and flaws in human character in favour of self-discipline and self-improvement.

“A learned Muslim scholar, Shaykh Farid Wajdi, says in his Wajdi’s EncyclopaediaArticle on Sacrifice:

“’Islam sanctioned sacrifice and expounded its wisdom and purpose; the wisdom being to induce the rich to spend, the purpose being to feed the poor unfortunate—for thus said the Lord —Eat of it and feed the poor unfortunate.’”

The following quotation would appear to argue such an emphasis on spiritual development in a contemporary context:

Their flesh will never reach Allah, nor yet their blood; but your piety and devotion will reach Him.”  – The Quran, 22:37 

Shaykh Wajdi even goes so far as to suggest that there might come a day when Muslims shall have to substitute the rite of animal sacrifice with other methods of giving alms.

IV     Legal and Medical Aspects

In India, the camel is a native mainly of Gujarat and Rajasthan.  Its physiology is suited to a dry desert climate.  It can go for long periods without drinking water, quaffing water only after considerable periods of time.  Its padded feet, too, are suited to soft desert sands.

 Unfortunately, these camels are walked all the way, as much as 2000 kilometres, to various other coastal states such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, in order to be slaughtered on occasions such as ‘Bakrid’.  Along the way, they develop very sore feet, infections on the pad and various other ailments and diseases.

 According to the Dean of the Karnataka Veterinary, Animal and Fisheries Sciences at Hebbal in Bangalore, this long journey is so stressful for the camels that they develop various diseases such as:  tryanosomiases; broncho-pneumonia; intracellular haemoprotozoam; anthrax and even rabies.

These conditions, brought on by unsuitable climatic conditions, lack of adequate food, rest and water along the way, can be transmitted not only to human beings but also to other animals such as sheep, goats, the cattle and livestock of farmers and so on.  Thus, both the populace and abundant livestock of Karnataka would be exposed to risk of infection from these poor, maltreated and neglected camels.

In the light of the above facts, a Bangalore-based humane society named ‘Animal Rights Fund’ filed a Public Interest Litigation in court.  After due deliberation, the Honourable Justices P. D. Dinakaran (Chief Justice) and V. G. Sabhahit passed orders on 6 January 2009 regarding the Writ Petition of ARF.  Keeping in mind not only the painful infectious diseases that these camels could contract during their southern odyssey, but also the desirability of maintaining the welfare of the camels in their own natural habitat, these justices declared a total ban on the entry of camels into the State of Karnataka.

In their order, these justices took pains to mention that these camels are transported into Karnataka illegally, in contravention of the rules governing the proper care and transport of all animals within the Indian Union.  Even the normal diet of these camels comprises shrubs and plants that are found in Rajasthan and Gujarat.  These mammals require a hot daytime climate, even if the nights are cool and dry, as distinct from the weather of, say, Bangalore in November and December.  

In addition to their being barred entry into Karnataka in the first place, there are no licensed municipal slaughterhouses for camels in Bangalore or elsewhere.  Hence, they are slaughtered during Bakr’Id in open spaces and even in residential areas, on streets and by lanes in flagrant violation of municipal health regulations.  This practice also indisputably contravenes the Prevention of Animal Sacrifices Act of 1959; and KPAS rules of 1963 to prevent illegal sacrifices.  Thus, the initial illegality of their very presence on our streets at Bakr’Id is compounded by the illegality of their venue of slaughter in various neighbourhoods.

Moreover, by virtue of the diseases and bacteria present in all these camels at the time of slaughter, they cannot be considered as ‘clean’ and fit for ‘sacrifice’. 

 “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.

Furthermore, in view of the evidence that camels and also cattle in India have been dwindling in alarming numbers of late, it may well be recommended that camels and cattle not be offered as Abrahamic sacrifice nor eaten.

The Karnataka Prevention of Animal Sacrifice Act 1959 and KPAS Rules of 1963 clearly prohibit the killing of any animal in the name of religious sacrifice.  A court order, W.P. 1330/2005 of the High Court of Karnataka, specifically directs the Chief Secretary and the Animal Husbandry Secretary to enforce the said legislation. 

 V     Additional reasons why camels ought not to be offered for sacrifice during Bakr’Id

Given below are a few thoughts on the subject penned by Mrs. Maneka Gandhi, Member of Parliament, the Bharatiya Janata Party, New Delhi, 2010.

Camel sacrifice : The new trend among the rich Muslims

Killing camels is a fad that was started about seven years ago by the rich Muslims of Hyderabad. They have taken advantage of the fact that they control the politics of that city to break every animal law in India. The same problem exists in West Bengal where the politicians are so busy wooing minorities that they ignore all the criminal activities that are turning India upside down. The problem is increasing manifold but nothing concrete is being done against it.

The plight of camels is being ignored

Worst of all are the long lines of camels that are pouring into the cities from all over India. There are reports of hundreds of camels that have come in and are standing bound together especially in West Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala & Andhra Pradesh. The 150 camels standing near the Howrah station will be killed in Kolkata on Bakr’Id. Many people, including me, have repeatedly talked to the senior police officers in Kolkata, but the efforts have gone unheard. This is a sad situation & must be stopped before many environmental and other hazards occur.

Why must camel killings be banned on Bakr’Id?

The camel slaughter must be stopped on Bakr’Id because it would eventually disturb the ecological balance and lead to extinction of camels. The prime reasons for banning the mass camel killings are as follows:

Camel killing is illegal in India

It is called Bakr’Id (bakr is goat) and not Unth’Id – (unth is camel). This killing has official sanction in a way that Hindu sacrifices do not. But it is limited to goats and they can be killed only in designated places. You cannot kill any other animal. This is a Supreme Court ruling when West Bengal’s people had started killing cows in large quantities on Bakr’Id. Now, since cows have been forbidden, they have turned their attention to camels. Tomorrow, it may be bears and tigers. The point is that you cannot kill any animal you want for Bakr’Id.

Camel count is dwindling

There are less than 4 lakh camels left in India. They are very slow to breed. According to official estimates they are reducing at the rate of 10 % per year – which means no camels in 10 years. The reason given is the killing at Bakr’Id.

~ Note from the editor:

Many thanks to to our contact in Bangalore,  Vasumathi Krishnasami, for allowing us to extract from her very comprehensive leaflet on this disturbing subject.

Quranic quotes:  Animal Welfare in Islam, Al-Hafiz Basheer Ahmed Masri, The Islamic Foundation, Copyright ‘Compassion in World Farming’, U.K., 2007, Chapter 3, ‘Animal Sacrifice’, p. 119.