The Longest Running Protest
GANDHIGIRI Kishore Kumar and Suchitra Jhade say prayers at the gates of the Deonar abattoir
For more than 25 years, every single day, a group of Gandhians has protested outside a slaughter house. Ketan Tanna reports
Outside an abattoir in Mumbai, a truck arrives carrying cattle for slaughter. A bored police constable blocks the vehicle at the gate. And a group of austere men and women rush to the truck. They offer prayers and shout feeble slogans against animal slaughter. The constable â€œarrestsâ€ these volunteers and takes them to the Deonar police station (Sambhaji Nagar beat chowkie) where they are respectfully offered chairs. A record of the arrest is made in the police diary and the protesters are let off. In the meanwhile, the truck has entered the slaughter house. The fate of the cattle is unambiguous.
This happens every day â€” the arrival of the truck, the stirring of the constable, the protest, the arrest and the honourable acquittal. And the transition of some less fortunate visitors into food. It has been going on every single day since January 11, 1982 when Vinoba Bhave first gave a call to his fellow Gandhians to protest against the slaughter of cattle. It is possibly the longest running demonstration in the world. Neither the â€™93 riots nor the consequent serial blasts, not even the 2005 deluge, have given the abattoir any respite.
The endurance of this protest has in fact lent it signs of permanence. Outside one of the many gates of the
slaughter house is a small modest hut with two wooden benches. At any given time in the day or night there are a few Gandhians keeping vigil. The perfunctory constable too makes use of the benches. The hut has a few sign boards that talk of Bhaveâ€™s philosophy towards animals and the philosophy of the Sarvodaya movement.
The abattoir is in the grey deprivations of Deonar, a dingy working class area in north east Mumbai with narrow by-lanes that are chiefly inhabited by butchers. The butchers, once enraged by the protests and afraid that their livelihood will be threatened, are now friendly with the Gandhians, reassured of their symbolic value. A long time ago, at the height of hostility, the butchers had even burnt down the hut. But now there is warmth and understanding between the two camps. In fact, it was the butchers who had guided this reporter to the hut. â€œThey have never harmed us,â€ says a butcher called Mohammed Hamid. â€œThey believe in their cause. On the other hand, we have to feed our family. We co-exist peacefully,â€ he adds.
Deonar police station constables take pride in the fact that the Gandhians have never resorted to violence. â€œWe treat them with respect. We have provided two constables who work round the clock in twelve hours shift. Their main duty is to ensure that there is no disruption when the bulls are taken inside the abattoir for slaughter. The Gandhians have never been disruptive and have always protested peacefully for the last 25 years,â€ says a constable.
Though this peace is largely due to the fact that the slaughter has continued unabated, the Gandhians believe that one day they will be successful. â€œChange always takes long and you must remember even our independence took many years to come,â€ says 47-year-old Suchitra
Jhade, a volunteer for the last 15 years of the Gauraksha Satyagrah Sanchalan Samiti (GSSS) which organises this protest. The GSSS is a part of the Sarvodaya movement. Another volunteer, 39-year-old Kishore Kumar is on a three-month sabbatical from Vinoba Bhaveâ€™s Paunar ashram. The protest fuels itself like this by summoning volunteers from across the country. In fact, while the number of Gandhians outside the abattoir has dwindled with time, a far greater depletion is in the number of cattle. The slaughter industry is losing steam faster than the protest.
â€œEarlier, the abattoir used to get nearly 3,000 bulls every month. Now the number has dwindled to less than 1,000,â€ a police constable says. â€œBulls are more costly now. A pair of healthy bulls which use to cost Rs 8,000 today costs Rs 15,000. Even farmers are unable to afford the bulls. Also, the government has banned the slaughter of bulls that are less than 15 years old. All this has affected the trade,â€ adds Kishore Kumar.
Over the years, the number of Gandhians outside the slaughter house has reduced from 300 to just a handful. Many of the original protesters are in their 60s and 70s. While new volunteers still join the movement from different parts of the country, the numbers are not encouraging. But those who do join, exhibit astonishing levels of passion and commitment.
Volunteers who come from different towns live frugally in the Sarvodaya Hospital premises in Ghatkopar. Suchitra Jhade, one of the dedicated volunteers behind the sustenance of the protest, too lives there. She is in a simple cotton sari and when she is not protesting she is usually with the Gita. Her recent marriage to fellow Gandhian, 65-year-old Sudhakar Jhade, has not affected her involvement in this long relentless protest.
Both of them live in the Sarvodaya Hospital and eat from the community kitchen.
â€œWe believe that one day we will win. One day people will see reason. It is not as if we have idealistic expectations or that we are we living in a delusional world,â€ she says. TNN