Many years ago , I was taken by one of my constituency colleagues to the house of a family that he knew in Moradabad. I went very reluctantly as I realized it was simply going to be a photo – op for them but there are some things that one has to do in politics. These people turned out to be exporters of bone carvings – something that I found so distasteful that I declared that I was on my weekly fast so I would not have to partake of their lunch. They took me round their showroom , took photographs and then , when I was leaving , offered me a large sum of money as an election donation – which I refused. When I asked what the bones were they promptly said “camel.”
I should have challenged them on the spot, asked them where they got these thousands of camel bones from – when there are only about 5 lakh camels in the country and no slaughter of camels except at Bakr Id when they are killed illegally in South India by rich Muslims. But I did not have the sense to think it through then.Since then I have been to a number of annual export fairs organized by the government and there are always more than 200 firms offering bone carvings. In the small shops near religious pilgrimage sites that sell religious artifacts , you will see thousands of Rama, Sita, Lakshmi and Ganesh statues all made of this bone. Go on the internet and hundreds of Indian companies from all over India are offering bone carvings, bone jewellery, bone boxes, bone buttons, bone chess pieces , room dividers , crushed hoof handicrafts. Only one of them Venkataramana Traders , admits that these are from cows and buffaloes but insists that they died “ naturally”.
The religious carvings stretch across all faiths. There are Tibetan Tantrik gods and all the standard Hindu idols including the sacred Om and Trishuls, Jesus and Mary, Buddha. One shameless site is selling all the Jain Arihants carved in bone ( and no doubt has a huge Jain clientele otherwise he wouldn’t be in business) – all of them say that these are camel bone.
Camel is bad enough – even if that were true. Since camel meat is not eaten – except on one day, illegally – this means that camels are being killed for their bone and for their skin . Rajasthan handicraft shops , including the government ones, actually market camel skin lampshades ( shades of Hitler and his human skin lampshades). Government census statistics show that the number of camels in India is reducing by 7 % a year – an alarming statistic and one that bodes ill for poor desert dwellers and the animal itself.
But 99% of the bone carvings are cow bone. Recently the Sunday Indian magazine has done a expose of the trade. They have taken dozens of photographs and taped the carvers, sellers and buyers of the bone. Killing cows is illegal in India. But cows are being slaughtered in the lakhs – all in the back alleys of minority towns and NRI owned “ export” slaughterhouses that government so eagerly gives licences to in the name of killing goats and earning foreign exchange ( since these slaughterhouses are tax free , government actually earns nothing and through these slaughterhouses , an entire mafia has sprung up that preys on the animals of the poor , often getting them at gunpoint).
These carved items are freely available in trinket shops . Those in the domestic market who know the Indian mind, claim that their carvings are made of very fine plastic, wood or a special stone – specially if they are selling jewellery or gods. The smell of the bone is attributed to the plastic. To tourists, it is the exotic camel bone. One of the hawkers simply said to the undercover team “ We just tell potential buyers they are made of wood. To persistent buyers we say camel bone. Most customers turn away if we were to say cow or buffalo bones”.
The trinkets for North India come from a minority populated area in Loni , bordering Delhi. The entire area stinks . The bones are smuggled in, in covered trucks and then they are cured here before being carved . The traders freely acknowledge that these are cow and buffalo bones , used because they are much larger and cheaper than any other bones, and freely available “ There are so many cows on the road. Take the bones of any you like.” The centre for religious carvings is in Jaipur and each manufacturer and trader is aware of the cow bone use but couldn’t care less. They say that sales go up during the Durga Puja and Diwali when thousands buy their gods for their Puja rooms at home.
The main suppliers and exporters get the animals slaughtered themselves as their businesses are to going to wait for intermittent supplies of dead cows. The meat is thrown away , the bones are sent for carving. In South India, the export slaughterhouses like Al Kabeer who kill thousands of buffaloes every day , sell the bone to Andhra Pradesh carving industry suppliers.
You need to stop this trade. It is not the byproduct of the slaughter industry. It is the slaughter industry itself. Thousands of cows are killed for their bone and skin – their meat is simply thrown away as few people eat it. To have an idol in your house made of the bones of a ruthlessly killed, gentle, milk giving creature is in itself the worst form of sin. Don’t just stop people from buying the carvings, get a few analysed and if they are cowbone , you can have the trader and exporter arrested, even if he claims ignorance.
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