With their dense, sand coated eyelashes, the ships of desert unfurl over the grounds that have seen the world’s largest camel fair for over decades now. Although, the helipad which was constructed for Prime Minister’s visit pertaining to Rajasthan elections, has been hurting the hooves of these stars of the desert show. But the show must go on!
Clad in crimson-hued turban, Ramkaran tries to control one of his 7 camels with all his energy. What seemed wild to me was a playful, perhaps a regular lifestyle for him. A few minutes later, caressing the same camel in his control, the 37-year-old semi-nomadic herdsman grins in respite. After settling it with the rest of the caravan he says, “I don’t have high hopes from the fair this time. It is a tradition for us now and by not coming I did not want to remorse later. I have been coming here for the past 20 years now, and can assure you that unless some magic happens, this fair won’t last for more than 5 years.”
Kishan Lal, who has pitched his tent with his family of 8, laments about the dull business, “It has been 8 days and out of 9 camels, only one is sold till now. Set aside the profit, coming from Ganganagar and living here for 10 days leaves us with a gloom since past few years.”
‘Raikas’, the traditional camel breeders or the guardians of the desert’s ecosystem are saddened with the dipping sale of camels year by year. Moreover, after it was declared the state animal in 2015, the situation even worsened. The Rajasthan Camel (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 2015 states seven years imprisonment for slaughtering camel and three years for smuggling it across state borders. Joint Director of Animal Husbandry, Dr. Ajay Arora designated as Pushkar Mela Adhikari explains, “This act has certainly created a disinterest amidst traders towards camel. Economic and feasible viability of the animal has declined and hence the population has plummeted. Agricultural practices have a dearth of placement for camels now but its medicinal uses and unique milk properties are gradually grabbing heed.” To boost the dwindling numbers, CM Vasundhara Raje launched ‘Ushtra Vikas Yojna’ (Camel Development Plan) in 2016 that provides an incentive of Rs 10,000 to the Raikas on the birth of each calf. According to the livestock census of 2012, the camel population of the state has dropped down to 300000 from 500000 in 2007. 82% of the country’s camels are in Rajasthan followed by Gujarat and Haryana.
The case of horses is not great either with the GST norms this year, cattle bracketing other livestock like buffaloes, goats etc has registered a negligible presence. According to the statistics from the Animal Husbandry department, around 4000 camels and 3000 horses arrived at the fairground out of which 950 camels and 1051 horses have been sold by the second last of the fair. While the costliest camel was of 50,000 and the cheapest of 4000, horse minted maximum 500000 for its trader. Additional grievance is that of payment modes. While Punjab traders are going hand in glove with the online transactions, the conventional traders of Rajasthan prefer sticking to hard cash.
The hullabaloo of cow vigilantism and mob lynching cases in the Mewat region has had a major impact over the psyches of the traders. They are not just scared but even willing to drift away from their hereditary businesses of cattle rearing. Chronicles of Communalism in livestock would outstand with the sad state of Nagauri Bulls and Rathi cows of Barmer.
Do you think those festival guides like ‘Everything you need to know about Pushkar Fair’ actually tells you about the fair? When the airway and hospitality companies shout out for hurrying up to book for the fair, obviously they won’t reveal the flip side of the colourful humdrum. The Kartik month of Hindu calendar, that ends on the full moon, is celebrated with gazillion holy dips in sacred Sarovar of Pushkar. This spiritual fete is clubbed with the quintessential folk character that spills around the Mela ground with the livestock and traders. Otherwise, a quaint town of 21,000 people, swells up with around 500000 visitors during these days of fair. The two theatrical rituals for 8 days, make the little town to be the Mecca of shutterbugs from across the world. Dawns bring the photographers armed with lenses greeting the camels even before sun and dusk strikes with the shutter sounds. Social Media platforms get flooded with the cinematic “camelicious” content and hashtags trend as the urban lingo for the rural scenery. The blanket of mist merged with the sand flanked by Aravalis naturally creates a phenomenal setting that compels the tourists to swell up. Events like hot air balloon rides, camel beauty contests, horse dances, longest moustache competition etc paint a riotously vibrant picture that conceals the gravity of the situation. Camel milk, defined as the heritage superfood of Rajasthan is emerging as the second reason after its pictures to keep the interest alive in the humped beauty.
Dr. Gulvinder Chawdhary, a Jaipur based veterinary doctor, who has been putting up animal welfare and camp in Pushkar Fair from past 6 years worked from 12th to 20th this month. After attending 30-40 horses and half the camels per day he concludes, “Since there is not much glory in being a camel welfare activist, there are a very few active on the grassroots level. Behind the scenes of the much colourful folk fervour is a grilling picture. Hot iron marking for branding purposes, tattooing, piercing etc are the usual protocols which get masked behind the action-packed itinerary of the festival. At times, camels and horses are even fed with Opium and Rum in order to make it dance and perform.” Animal welfare is a sort of education and subjected to compassionate exercise.
In 2015, a fusion rock band the Indian Ocean had spilled its charm at the Mela ground with a nailing performance. But that’s what urban folks felt. The 80% crowd sat there flabbergasted and clueless of what is happening. “Mechanisation is a satan and the deeper state of affairs are disappointing when it comes to the original essence of such festivities. There is a dangerous intrusion happening”, describes Daniel, a British Research scholar based in Varanasi.