Sonpur (Bihar): Bilath Singh, Ram Naresh Singh, Sachitanand Choudhary and Kedarnath Thakur – all traders in cows – share one thing in common: they are at their wits’ end over the drastic fall of their business at Sonpur, Asia’s largest cattle fair, and blame militant and misinformed Hindu groups for what they call the “destruction” of the famous fair.
“Our business as sellers of cows has badly suffered in recent years but it is the worst this year thanks to the politics (by the BJP, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and the Gau Rakshak Dal) over beef or cow slaughter,” a disgusted Bilath Singh told IANS.
“This year, the number of cows we brought to sell is nearly half of last year. We brought less than 100 cows this time. Traders and buyers are afraid of the so-called cow protection drive launched by the VHP and Bajrang Dal and supported by the BJP,” Bilath, one of the few sellers of cows to have put up his stall at Sonpur, told IANS.
He said the Hindu right-wing organizations are doing more harm than helping to save cows. “Unlike last year, when we used to receive buyers in large numbers, this time few buyers have come. Never before has it happened in the last 40 years that buyers are missing,” Bilath said woefully.
“I have sold only four cows so far. Last year I had sold 32 cows till the second week of December and 46 till the end of the fair,” Bilath said.
Manohar, a tea seller at the fair, said that the number of cows had drastically reduced and it was difficult to believe that till a few years ago, Sonpur was teeming with them during the fair.
There are reports that due to the tension in the air, sellers have shifted to states like Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and even Assam, where the spotlight is not so much on the sale of cows.
Two other sellers of cows, Ram Naresh Singh and Sachitanand Choudhary, also directly blamed the BJP’s politics over beef as the main cause for the drastic drop in their business.
“We are in the cow trade for decades but the situation was never like this before. Last year, nearly 2,000 cows were brought to this fair, but the number has come down to 100 this time. Five years ago, not less than 25,000 cows were brought here and more than half of them used to be sold,” Ram Naresh Singh told IANS.
“We have failed to sell a single cow till date. It is a worst-case situation for us. We will have to suffer a big loss,” he lamented.
Kedarnath Thakur said he has managed to sell just three cows – against 25 last year.
“For this, the politics over cow protection is responsible,” Thakur said.
“Cows are sold here for milking alone and not for slaughter,” Thakur insisted.
It is not only cows; the story is more or less similar even for buffaloes.
A youth, Akash Kumar Rai, whose father has brought buffaloes to sell, is extremely upset.
“We could not sell a single buffalo.You can imagine our loss,” Rai bemoaned.
Naunu Singh, a retired government official who belongs to Gaya district and is a regular visitor to Sonpur for over two-and-a-half decades, said it was a sad matter for Bihar and the country that this unique cattle fair is on the verge of losing its identity.
He said successive state and central governments have ignored the fair and failed to inject it new life.
“The hype and controversy created over beef and cow slaughter has destroyed the fair. It is no more a district-level fair,” Naunu Singh, a former head of the Belhari gram panchayat, told IANS.
Sonpur, about 30 km from Patna, is in Saran district. The fair is spread across 500 acres near the confluence of the Ganga and the Gandak rivers and has been held every year for centuries.
According to local folklore emperor Chandragupta Maurya (340-298 BC), is said to have bought horses and elephants here after breeders travelled miles to arrive at the site of the fair.
(Imran Khan can be contacted at [email protected])