Camel-Ship of Desert

The Indian camel, the single humped or Dromedary, is the pride of Rajasthan and thousands of poor families are dependant on the camel for their travel across the desert. It lives for 40-50 years. The camel takes 15 months to give birth and it attains maturity after it is 5 years old. It has one child at a time. The young ones are raised by their mother for a period of two years after their birth. They are low maintenance animals, needing dry grass and thorny plants to survive. They can survive in very high temperatures. The thick coat of a camel reflects sunlight and serves as insulation from the heat of the sand.

This animal is disappearing before our eyes. In Rajasthan, the camel has become expensive and rare. The 6 lakh camels have now come down to 2.5 lakh. Within 5 years they will be no more than 5000 camels and these will only be owned by the very rich or the zoos that show rare creatures.

Is the camel being phased out because roads and vehicles have come in? No. As the price of petrol/diesel rises, a large part of the rural population has gone back to buying camels. In some of the more remote villages, camels are still used by the post office for their mail service. Camels pulling carts are used to deliver goods, in banking and to draw water out of deep water wells. Entire families and their household equipment migrate on their backs. It is a common sight to see camel caravans with large bags filled with grasses used for feeding horses, oxen, water buffalo. Tourists say that one of the most enchanting experiences you can have in India is to ride through the desert on a camel’s back and camp out under the stars.

Unfortunately, the price of a camel which used to be only a few thousand has soared – because there are no camels. In 10 years the population has come down to one fourth – only because of its illegal slaughter outside the state. A sturdy male now fetches up to Rs.40,000/-.

The reason for that is simple: it is being smuggled to other states to be killed and eaten. The Raikas, who were the traditional breeders of camels, are now selling them for slaughter.

Five years ago, the rich people of one community decided that during Id, they did not want to kill goats but camels. So camels started being smuggled to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Karnataka. They went through Bihar into Bangladesh.

How is a camel killed during Id. First, one day before, the camel’s front leg is tied so that it cannot run or struggle without falling. Then a knife is taken and words are incised on its back. Its jaw is broken to keep it in pain and docile. Then, the next day the man takes a razor and puts it on a stick. He cuts its throat so that blood comes gushing out. The camel keeps standing till it weakens from loss of blood. It sits down then it lies down. When it lies down, the children looking at it, dance on its stomach and kick it to make it hurry up and die. It takes an hour to die with pools of blood around it. Its head is then cut off and put on a stick and its meat is eaten.

This has been happening during Id. But now, the same community want camel meat all the time. So an illegal market for camel meat has opened in Hyderabad. The Municipality turns a blind eye because it is in the heart of old Hyderabad, a dangerous area that respects no laws.

What is the route? Camels are being sold at weekly bazaars in Rajasthan. The great Pushkar mela , for instance, which used to be a camel celebration is now attended mainly by animal smugglers and butchers. These come pretending to be farmers. Why would a farmer need a camel? Does a camel plough the field? But these so called farmers all come from Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh. The camels are taken by road through Haryana, either walking or crammed into trucks with their legs tied. In Baghpat they are killed and the meat sent to Meerut and Hyderabad. I have just caught 30 in Delhi going to Meerut and 64 in Jhajjar going to Baghpat. The SP of Baghpat told me that he caught camels almost every day until the trade stopped. Then, the day he was posted out, the mafia got to know and the trade started the same day.

Other camels are sent to Bangladesh via Bihar. I have just caught 140 in Katihar and 49 in Araria. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka have forbidden the entry of camels. People were bringing them in, pretending they were coming for joyrides for children.

It is illegal to kill camels. The Kerala High Court has ruled that camels are not meat animals and they cannot be killed and eaten. But the police turn a blind eye to the groups of camels being taken across India.

There is no excuse to take camels out of Rajasthan. They are not farm animals, they do not survive the tarred road, so they are not transport animals. They die very quickly on the beaches and have been forbidden to go there by law. They are only good in the desert where they save lives and homes.

They cannot be killed at Bakr Id because only goats are allowed. After all it is Bakr Id and not Oonth Id. Today it is camels, tomorrow it might become fashionable to kill cows or tigers for this day.

I have written to the Rajasthan Chief Minister to declare the camel the state animal and to ban its sale outside Rajasthan. No camels should be sold at weekly bazaars, and certainly no farmers from Baghpat or anywhere outside Rajasthan should be allowed to buy any.

If this does not happen, say goodbye to this animal, full of temperament and pride and character. It is already on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species. It has become yet another victim to our inability to enforce any laws in India.


Maneka Gandhi

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