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Calcutta Slaughterhouse: Colonial and Post-Colonial Experiences

The history of the Calcutta slaughterhouses shows the dilemma of colonial as well as post-colonial governments in handling the unsatisfactory condition of the slaughterhouses and the barbarous practice of flaying animals. This paper argues how the animal rather than man became a crucial agent in the colonial government in the urban history of Calcutta. Despite the legal deterrents, the pathetic conditions of the slaughterhouses in West Bengal continue and the lackadaisical attitude of the post-colonial government persists even today.

Calcutta Slaughterhouse: Colonial and Post-Colonial Experiences

The history of the Calcutta slaughterhouses shows the dilemma of colonial as well as post-colonial governments in handling the unsatisfactory condition of the slaughterhouses and the barbarous practice of flaying animals. This paper argues how the animal rather than man became a crucial agent in the colonial government in the urban history of Calcutta. Despite the legal deterrents, the pathetic conditions of the slaughterhouses in West Bengal continue and the lackadaisical attitude of the post-colonial government persists even today.

SAMIPARNA SAMANTA

T
his paper addresses a single-point agenda with multiple sites of historical intervention. It argues how the animal rather than man became a crucial agent in the colonial engagement of the British government in the urban history of Calcutta. It also seeks to explicate how the spatial situation of Calcutta slaughterhouses was repeatedly redefined in view of growing Christian sensibilities to the cultural ecology in the metropolis. We have evidence to believe that animals were dying in large numbers in the 1860s and 1870s of the 19th century partly because some districts of Bengal were then experiencing cattle murrains and partly because an increasing number of cattle were being slaughtered to provide meat for Calcuttans. But the moot question is how did all these happen? Scholars generally relate the phenomenon of recurring murrains and the consequent rising prices of cattle to agricultural decline,1 but our historiography is reticent on the ultimate fate of animals. What happened to the wretched animals when they entered the city? Did they die a death befitting the ones in a civilised country? Did the children of a “lesser god” receive the quality of mercy at human hands? These are some of the questions the paper seeks to interrogate.

City and Its Citizens

The city of Calcutta was admittedly a social product and an economic construct, and as such it was brought into being by forces external to it.2 The function of the metropolis as an innovative agency in the process of socio-cultural or economic change is of special significance in a colonial context. The metropolis was hardly free to develop along indigenous lines. Despite the noticeable increase in the masonry buildings in the first half of the 19th century, the city of Calcutta was still essentially a city of hutments. The thatched huts were replaced by tiled ones in1837.3 Around the fringes of the ‘saheb para’ had developed what the urban historians of Calcutta would like to describe as a “heterogeneous intermediate zone”, inhabited by poor whites, Eurasians, large numbers of Muslim service groups, and small communities of Jews, Armenians and Chinese.4 Other propertied Muslim groups were scattered in pockets like Cossipore in the north, Tollygunj in the south, Garden Reach in the south-west, all in the outskirts of the growing city. At the north-western edge of the intermediate zone but close to the European business hub, lay Burrabazar, the lynchpin of Calcutta’s commerce with other parts of the subcontinent and even beyond, by river, land and then railway.5 In 1850, Colesworthy Grant found here Persians, Arabs, Jews, Marwaris, Armenians, Madrasees, Sikhs, Turks, Parsees, Chinese, Burmese and Bengalis.6 Nevertheless, while ‘dihi’ Calcutta was graduating into a ‘town’, the suburbs on the east remained absolutely underdeveloped. Its eastern margin harboured the system of dumping the city garbage in one of the eastern dihis in the late 19th century, serving as a means of subsistence through rummaging in the garbage.7

Throughout the 19th century, one can notice an expansion in the population of Calcutta with an increasing settlement of people, European as well as indigenous. This rapidly growing population left its mark in a westernised culinary habit, which in turn generated a great demand for meat. Official records show that a large number of cattle were being brought from the districts of Burdwan, 24 Parganas, Nadia, Hooghly and Bankura to the metropolis for the purpose of being butchered. The slaughter of an increasing number of cattle to provide meat for the Calcuttans as also the troops stationed at Fort William, diminished the supply of cattle for agricultural uses, and thus tended to raise its price. What the cattle traders of Ultadanga market in Calcutta told the Cattle Plague Commission was only a slightly exaggerated truth: “Cattle have become rare, the butchers are buying up all the cattle of the country”.8 Another crime rampant during this period was the poisoning of cattle on a large-scale for an increasingly lucrative hide trade.9 The amount of hides from cattle dying a natural death was far too small for the growing demand for hides. Hence, the need for poisoning! The nature of spatial expansion as also the pattern of demographic development in the city had an important bearing on the story of its slaughterhouses.

Hide Trade: To Hide or Not to Hide

Side by side with these developments, a number of slaughterhouses came up in Calcutta. In 1864, the sanitary commissioner for Bengal drew attention to the unsatisfactory condition of the slaughterhouses in the neighbourhood of Calcutta, and argued that it was a disgrace that a city like Calcutta should have no decent public slaughterhouses.10 But the more pertinent question is why there was a need to slaughter animals in the way it was done. The reports of the Calcutta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CSPCA) are truly revealing in this regard.11 On January 8, 1903, the editor of Truth reported:12

A barbarous practice of flaying alive goats and kids prevails indifferent parts of India. It is satisfactory to know that the CalcuttaSPCA is stirring in the matter. The export from Calcutta ofgoatskins “dried in the hair” is a very large one, amounting to more than a million skins per month. The skins go to American

and European leather-dressers, the Americans taking by far the

larger proportion. For a long time past the practice has prevailed

of stretching the skins lengthwise while fresh, in order to increase

the measured length, and with it the apparent value. To meet it,

the American Morocco manufacturers imposed a minimum

length of 28 inches “from square of neck to root to tail” as a

standard which skins must pass in order to go onto the ‘regular’

assortment. Upon this, the Hindoo promptly devised means to force

the length of small goatskins up to the required 28 inches, one

of the means being the diabolically cruel one of flaying the head,

alive, the perpetrator believing that he could thereby add an inch

or two to length of the neck, and thus make a few more annas

per skin.

In 1887, a certain standard was adopted by the Morocco Manufacturers’ Meet, where it was contended that goatskins should be classified. The deliberations referred to Indian goatskins as well:

East India: Should be true to their kind without double plaster

or dirt, rejecting damaged skins and kids measuring less than 28

inches in length on the back, measuring from the square of the

neck to the root of the tail.13

At that time, the pet skins were mostly imported by merchants in New York and Philadelphia, who sold them to the Morocco manufacturers, and the purpose of these standards was that the importers should select all the different classes of goatskins according to the standard prescribed so that buyers would know what they were buying and would govern themselves accordingly in relation to prices and other things.

However, the conditions gradually changed since that time.14 With the exception of central American skins, i e, from Mexican and from the northern part of South America, there was no longer a classification of skins in the US. In other words, importers did not have their skins selected according to measurement. Indian skins came and were bought and sold as 500 pound, 525 pound, 550 pound skins, etc. Those members of the association who had worked on the Indian skins were no doubt aware of the fact that they got among the skins a large percentage of extraordinarily stretched skins, sometimes termed “long necks”. This was very detrimental to business because the skin, while it might measure 28 inches in length according to the standard adopted in 1887, was yet practically a kidskin. However, measuring over 28 inches, it went into the selection.

Perhaps the most perplexing question behind this brutal practice was the reasons for flaying the goats alive. It was claimed that it was needed to flay all animals alive for the purpose of stretching the skin. However, Burk rightly pointed out that it would seem illogical to flay the animals alive for the purpose, for one would suppose they could stretch the skin just as well from an animal, slaughtered in the usual way, as from one flayed alive.15 But in the words of Burk, the explanation offered for the reasons to do so was that “they do not stick the animal, as our butchers do, and bleed it, but they hit it a blow on the head, and in doing so they would cause injury to the skin on the head, and it is their purpose to skin the animal clean down over the eyes. Therefore, the reason they flay the animals alive is to enable them to get the skin without a bruise, and to make it that much longer”.16 In fact, the Calcutta market had its own custom of selling and buying the skins.17 The selectors, accompanying the buyers, went into the bazaar, where goatskins were offered for sale, and they each had a stick with notches in it. They put the stick on every goatskin and classified according to length. No buyer could go into the market and value and bid upon skins by any other system because that was the method followed by all alike.

Enter the Slaughterhouse

In fact, the reports of the SPCA are replete with evidence of brutal ways in which the hapless animals were slaughtered in most of the slaughterhouses. These reports state that the slaughterhouse at Kurriah was used for the slaughter of bullocks.18 It harboured a mere shed, open to all sides to the gaze not only of all the children of the neighbourhood, but of the poor animals tied on the outside. The cattle were then taken in one by one, till half a dozen or more were gathered together. While one man pulled the limb from the ground, another man, by a violent wrench of the neck, threw the creature down upon its side, and tied its legs. The same proceeding was gone through with the whole number.19 Thus bound and bruised upon the loathsome floor they were kept for about 10 or 15 minutes until the arrival of the ‘mollah’, an official whose duty was to make the first cut, which was only partial. A second man then completed the butchery by severing the spine. A further violence was used towards them by twisting their heads into a position favourable for the first butcher’s cruel ceremony.

Much greater barbarities were perpetrated in the killing of the calves in the slaughterhouses at Kurriah.20 The calves were first brought, tied together, 20 in a batch. There, one by one, the poor animals were thrown down, and one man used to put his foot on the body and cut the throat. After the animals were allowed to remain only a few minutes, and then whilst still alive, seized by the hind and foreleg, they were inhumanly flung into the slaughterhouse in a heap one upon the another – all still living! There they were left to die.

The two major slaughterhouses at Chitpore were used for the slaughtering of sheep.21 The buildings which were pucca were cleaner and in much better condition than those at Kurriah. However, the operations here were conducted in the same barbarous manner as in the killing of calves, with exception that the animals were allowed to lay until dead and not thrown about.

The slaughtering of pigs also revealed an element of cruelty culminating in a degree of barbarity that seems hardly credible.22 Into the slaughtering ground, the unfortunate beasts were dragged together and left to plunge about until the following morning! The object of this atrocious cruelty appeared to be to weaken the wretched animals in order to lessen their struggles at the time of killing. About daylight they were dragged one by one, by either a leg or the tail, a little apart, and there slaughtered by the customary sticking of the throat and were kept tied until dead.

Fowls and poultry were also slaughtered mercilessly. Fowls were brought from different parts of the country in boats, some from Ulubariah, some from Dum Dum, and great numbers from a place called Pyeggatta, near to Belliaghatta. From there the dealers brought them to Dhurromtollah markets in baskets, all with their legs tied together, and so crowded that the men had to frequently take some of them out for the sake of air to preserve them alive. Pigeons were subjected to the further cruelty of having their wings hooked back into each other. In the Tireetee bazaar, it is said, ducks were kept in stalls in good condition. But all came to the market in the crowded and bound state. Geese were brought to the market six in the basket lying in a straw, beated and fettered by the legs being tied together.23

Thus, it appears that in the case of nearly every animal destroyed for human food the utmost barbarity that it might be thought ingenuity had invented, rather than mere ignorance occasioned, was exercised towards him or her. No means, such as those prevailed in Europe and elsewhere were adopted to produce insensibility to pain, or to lessen its duration. On the contrary, pain was inflicted to increase the one, and prolong the other. C Grant, the honorary secretary of CSPCA argued that no efforts whatsoever were made to mitigate in any way the inflictions and horrors, or to disguise the approach of death, of which it is believed animals are as conscious of the threats and as sensible to the terrors as are human beings. Moreover, to all this cruel and prolific sense of detriment to the flesh of such animals as food were added those of the utmost impurity, filth and privation.24

Animal: A Contested Terrain

The entire trajectory of animal slaughter and the attitudes related to it can be understood better by exploring the ongoing debate about “speciesism” in the western world. The threads that ran through the debate were tied to the issues like whether we should treat animals as existing in their own right, or should we treat them as means to our own ends? The western views regarding animals had their origin in Judaism and ancient Greek civilisation, and the roots coalesced in Christianity.25 In Tudor and Stuart England, the traditional view was that the world had been created for man’s sake and that other species were meant to be subordinate to his wishes and needs.26 Men were thus carnivorous and animals might lawfully be killed and eaten, subject only to prevailing dietary restrictions. Nowhere in Europe was the dependence upon animals greater than in England. Foreign visitors marvelled to see so many butchers and shops and so much meat eating. Everyone’s ideal meal was a healthy meat diet, since flesh, especially beef, was according to the doctors, “of all food…most agreeable to the nature of man and breedeth most abundant nourishment to the body”.27

Meanwhile, the scientists and economic projectors of the 17th century anticipated yet further triumphs over the inferior species when Bacon argued that the purpose of science was to restore to men that domination over the creation that he had partly lost at the fall. A 17th century preacher remarked of the beasts kept for food that “these are only fed for slaughter: we kill and eat them and regard not their cries and struggling when, the knife is thrust to their very hearts”.28

However, at the same time, a remarkably constant attitude underlay the great bulk of preaching and pamphleteering against animal cruelty between 14th and 19th century England.29 Domestic animals, it was argued, should be allowed food and rest and their deaths should be as painless as possible. Wild animals could be killed if they were needed for food or thought to be harmful. But although game could be shot, and vermin hunted, it was wrong to kill for mere pleasure. It followed that staging of contests between animals was unacceptable. On the other hand, bull baiting was permissible because it was required by the civil authorities in order to improve the quality of meat. It was in keeping with this attitude that the great Elizabethan Puritan William Perkins allowed bull baiting, but strongly condemned cock fighting and bear baiting. Of course, this position left a good deal of room for argument on the question of what was “necessary” and what was avoidable.

When the animal in the perception of western moralists turned out to be a contested terrain, what was happening in Calcutta metropolis! The position taken by C Grant, was an extension of the arguments which marked the Christian sensibilities of 18th century Englishmen. In the late 17th century England, man’s right to kill animals for food was being hotly debated.30 The vegetarian teachings of Plutarch and Porphyry were well known to the educated, while Pythagoras’ moral objection to meat-eating gained wide currency through successive translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Along with these conscientious objections to meat eating went more practical considerations. Later 17th century, scientists like Walter Charleston, John Ray and John Wallis were much impressed by the suggestion that human anatomy, particularly teeth and intestines, showed that man had not originally been intended to be carnivorous.31 This argument provided additional support for the view that meat eating was “unnatural”. Butchers, accordingly, were viewed with much suspicion, not just because of the noise, smell, blood and pollution, which their activities involved, but also because of a widespread aversion to the art of slaughter itself. In More’s Utopia the bondsmen did all the slaughtering and freemen were not even allowed to witness it lest their human clemency be eroded.32 The butchers’ trade was “odious”, thought William Vaughan in 1608, they handled raw flesh, which it was said, and everyone else felt it too repugnant even to touch.33 In a poetical dictionary of 1657 they were described as “greasy, bloody, slaughtering, merciless, pitiless, cruel, rude, grim, harsh, stern…surly”.34

In Victorian times, the slaughter men were frequently said by social investigators to be the most demoralised class of all.35 No wonder that it was widely believed in the early modern times that butchers were ineligible for jury service in capital cases, owing to their cruel inclination. There seems to have been no legal authority for this notion, but it was held throughout the 17th and 18th centuries by scores of commentators who should have known better.36 From about 1790 there developed a highly articulate vegetarian movement. It was argued that not only did the slaughter of animals have a brutalising effect on the human character, but the consumption of meat was bad for health; it was psychologically unnatural; it made man cruel and ferocious; and it inflicted untold suffering upon man’s fellow-creatures.

A combination of religious piety and bourgeois campaign, thus led to a new and effective campaign. Cockpits became illegal in London in 1833 and in the whole country in 1835. Cock fighting as such was finally prohibited in 1849, though like the other animals sports it survived in a clandestine manner.37 Cruelty to certain domestic animals became a legal offence for the first time. It seems that it would have been difficult to pass this bill, if the domestic animals under consideration were not seen as items of private property and if the bill did not promise to benefit the owner of the animals as well.38 The bill became a law, but it still required to be enforced. Richard Martin, the MP who proposed the bill in the House of Commons, and some other humanitarians formed a society for collecting adequate proof against tyranny of animals. It is, thus, that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in Britain in 1824. Thus even within a fundamentally man-centred mode of thought, people were condemning many of the ways in which animals had been customarily treated. Beasts had been created for man’s sake, but that was no reason for ill-treating them unnecessarily.

However, to suggest that concern for animals’ rights developed logically out of elements latent in the Judaeo-Christian tradition is merely to beg the question. For, if the intellectual possibility had always been there, why was it only in the early modern period that it was realised? The answer seems to be in the fact that new attitude was closely related to the development of towns and the emergence of an industrial order in which animals became increasingly marginal to the processes of production. Hence, interestingly, the agitation against cruelty to animals did not begin among those directly involved in working with animals like the butchers, farmers and the cart-drivers. Rather the new sentiment was expressed by the well-to-do townsmen, remote from the agricultural process and inclined to think of animals as pets rather than as working livestock.

The CSPCA, founded in 1861 by Colesworthy Grant, in lines with the Royal SPCA was thus another middle class campaign to civilise the lower orders. Hence, during its inception, the object of the CSPCA was not merely to prevent the cruelty towards dumb animals by the deterrent influence of legal punishment, but also to foster those merciful impulses that tended to the growth of humanity. In the annual meeting of the CSPCA in 1900, Rai Issur Chandra Mitter Bahadur pleaded the magistrates concerned to deal severely in cases of cruelty to animals by offenders.39 According to him, the spread of cruelty to animals was amongst the lower orders of the people, whom educational influences had failed to reach, and who could only be deterred by the pains and penalties of law. Thus, against the backdrop of the ongoing debate on “speciesism”, the CSPCA, echoing the sensibilities of the wellto-do, who championed animal protection, tended to discipline the poor workers who continued to look into animals in a functional light, untinged by sentiment, and to whom exploiting or killing animals constituted their only source of livelihood.

Surprisingly, the love of animals was never drawn to the point where it seemingly threatened human interests. It was no accident that so much of the campaign related to the treatment of those domestic beasts on whom society was economically dependent. The same element of self-interest ran through all the legislation against animal cruelty – Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1869, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1891.

Questioning the Quality of Mercy

The Citizens

Response of the concerned people here in Calcutta poured in on two counts. First, they were much concerned with the evident cruelty to the hapless animals, and second, the question of health and sanitation also worried them. Grant drew attention of the government to the whole system of cruelty, which existed in the methods of slaughtering animal for food.40 He pleaded for intervention of the lieutenant governor in the practices, which were so repugnant to humanity, and to the spirit of a community under British rule. He further observed that both the dealers in cattle and the men employed in slaughtering were Mohammedans. But he argued that disclaiming any desire of interference with the Muslim religious sentiments, the committee would submit the claim of the Christian community to equality of exemption from compulsory participation in practices, which were altogether antagonistic to Christian views and feeling, and repugnant to the laws of humanity. He rightly noticed that the existing mode of slaughtering animals was productive of a most needless prolongation of pain and suffering. It was altogether at variance with the practice in Europe of ensuring painless and instantaneous death in the slaughter of animals for food by a blow in the brain followed by bleeding.

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C Grant was aware that it would be rather difficult to introduce immediately the European method of slaughtering animals in view of the fact that the Mohammedan community would be extremely reluctant to accept it, and that the government would also be hesitant in enforcing it, for the memory of 1857 was still fresh in their mind.41 Nevertheless, he prayed for such measures only as would remove from the present system all that was not essential for their Mohammedan fellow-subjects, and was very objectionable to the Christians. He insisted first, on the prohibition of the preliminary cutting of the animals by the official called the ‘mollah’, which he had been assured on Mohammedan authority was unnecessary; second, the isolation of every animal at the time of killing, the strictest prohibition being made against animals ever being slaughtered in the presence or sight of each other; third, the cleanliness and thorough ventilation of the sheds for accommodation of the animals during detention, and careful provision for the supply of good food and water; fourth, the strict enforcement of these rules and all other needful to secure the summary rejection of animals unsound or ill-fed, and placing the entire arrangements under rigid municipal control; fifth, the total prohibition of the atrocious cruelties practised upon swine, and enforcement of the European method of slaughtering by rendering the animals insensible before bleeding. No interference with religious observances was endangered here; and finally, the like prohibition of the cruel manner of carrying foul, or any other animals, slung by the feet, head downwards, so commonly practised throughout Bengal, a practice which was a penal offence in England and America.42

Apart from the grotesque method of slaughter and the terrible pain inflicted on the animals, British doctors also noted the retrogressive effect that cruelty to animals had on public health. Joseph Ewart, presidency surgeon of Calcutta, opined that the English practice of instantaneous destruction of all consciousness by means of a pole axe, immediately followed by bleeding from the jugulars, was, when properly performed, a perfectly painless mode of death. Moreover, it was also one, which was calculated to preserve the purity and wholesomeness of the flesh of animals intended for human consumption.43 Ewart suggested that to secure the provision of healthy and sound animal food for the community of Calcutta, skilled supervision was needed to ensure the slaughtering only of healthy animals and for the rejection of all animals unsound or ill-fed. Norman Chevers, the principal of Calcutta Medical College, too raised the pertinent question of hygiene:

If, as Prof Hordsford says, cattle, by reason of their cruel trans

portation, lose on an average 200 pounds weight between the West

and Boston; if, as Prof. Agassize says, there are dangers arising

from the ill-treatment of beef cattle before slaughtering them; if,

as Medical Inspector Hamlin says, the flesh of a mammalian

becomes deleterious by reason of fasting, disturbance of sleep,

and long continued suffering; if a large percentage of cattle brought

from the West have ulcers; if the blood of these cattle will kill

swine, and these sleepless, starved, thirsty, feverish animals are

being turned into our slaughterhouses day after day to feed our

citizens, what is the effect upon the public health?44

Chevers consulted various physicians and authorities, and came to the conclusion that the cruel and improper treatment of animals rendered their meat and milk unfit for use, and that a large portion of human diseases arose from such sources. Cattle which were cruelly treated, improperly fed, or housed, or kept without air, exercise or sunshine, or kept long times in solitary confinement, became diseased and their meat unfit to eat. Chevers expressed the doctrine in the words of J C Lord who too noticed that cruelty to animals used for food was marked by a retributive result. Lord held that all bad feeding, cruel handling, all inhumanity in the modes of conveyance, all tortures for being tied for days before they were slaughtered, all brutal modes of killing, had an uniform effect in rendering the flesh unwholesome and unfit for use, as much so in many cases as though the animals had died of disease. Chevers echoed Lord’s opinion and stated that in European slaughterhouses it was an established rule that animals to be slaughtered should be in healthy conditions and fully fed. Moreover, greatest precautions were taken by removing all traces of blood so that the animals remain unconscious to the danger of death up to the moment it was killed. Besides, stringent laws had been made in Europe to prevent the bleeding of calves before they were killed, on the ground that the bleeding made their meat innutritious, unwholesome and unfit for use.45

Faced with its lackadaisical attitude, the inhabitants concerned pressed the government to rescue them from the ill-health the operation of slaughtering animals involved. The inhabitants, ‘goledars’, shopkeepers, and other residents of Narcoldangah in the suburbs of Calcutta petitioned to the government in early 1869 that they had been suffering most intensely for about six years from disease and other evils, engendered by a slaughter yard established in Narcoldangah by one Shaik Rahamutoollah.46 They argued that though the municipal commissioner had often punished him with fines for not keeping the place clean, the nuisance was as loathsome and injurious to health as ever. They also stated that hundreds of cattle were being daily slaughtered, and the entrails, blood, bones, flesh, etc, were not being thoroughly cleaned of. Rather, they were left partly to accumulate on the ground, partly to be buried on the mud, and partly to run into the adjacent drains. Hence, there was always a horrible stench issuing from their putrefaction. Moreover, they reported that few of the inmates of their houses were free from disease and vegetation on their lands and in their gardens was almost all destroyed by the large number of dogs, jackals, vultures and other large carrion birds that congregate in the locality.

The Government

Acting upon the importunities of the SPCA and the general public as also the report of the sanitary commissioner, the government of Bengal appointed a committee for the purpose of enquiring into the then state of the slaughterhouses in the suburbs and of reporting on the best plan of establishing slaughterhouses under proper regulation for the use of the public in the city and the troops stationed at Fort William.47 The committee consisted of V H Schalch, Major Willes and H A Cockrell. By the end of the year, the committee submitted a report to the government condemning the existing slaughterhouses in the most unqualified terms and declared that nothing could be more disgraceful and more injurious to the purity of the meat than the condition in which they found them. The remedy proposed by the committee was to establish one slaughterhouse and to place it under strict municipal control. As regards the most convenient site for the proposed abattoir the committee observed that the imperative requirements were, first, facilities for drainage for a supply of water and for the disposal of the refuse from the slaughterhouse; second, central position and accessibility as regards the consuming districts.48

It appears that some 20 to 25 slaughterhouses had emerged in the suburbs of Calcutta when the Act VII of 1865 was passed. That act became a law in April 1865. In May 1865, the justices of Calcutta and the suburb commissioners finally agreed that Calcutta municipality, for the use of both Calcutta and the suburbs, should erect one large new slaughterhouse at Tangra, and that no slaughterhouses in the suburbs should be allowed from such time as the building at Tangra was fit for use. On August 12, 1869, the Tangra slaughterhouse was ready for commissioning. Thereupon, the chairman of the suburban commissioners served two notices on all the suburban slaughterhouse keepers, the first, telling them that their licences would not be renewed after March 31, 1870; the second notice mentioned what was necessary to be done, i e, drains as approved of by the municipal commissioners; floors and drains to be paved with stone or burnt bricks; and a proper supply of water. With two exceptions (that at Kurriah owned by Amanuth Ali, who farmed it to Meajan Mullick, that at Narcoldangah owned by Rahamutoollah) all the slaughterhouses had been closed.49

But the pertinent question is why had the government been so eager to supervise and control the existing slaughterhouses? The reasons are not far to seek. The slaughterhouses, as we know, were under the supervision of the police and the conservancy overseers. But they failed in their duty. For most of the slaughterhouses, by degree, had been driven from Calcutta and the more populous parts of the suburbs to the outskirts of the town, but the suburbs were daily spreading, and these places were becoming a great nuisance to public health.50 But the most important reason for government intervention was that these places were carrying on clandestine hide trade along with unauthorised slaughtering of cattle brought in from the adjacent districts. But since the government was much worried about the regular and undisturbed supply of meat to the European troops stationed at Calcutta it preferred to connive at it. The government, therefore, simply expressed its anxiety about the ill-health the operation of slaughterhouses involved and pleaded inability to do anything worthwhile.

Cashing in on the government constraints, the unlicensed slaughterhouses at Kurriah and Narcoldangah continued in full swing. Despite the refusal of the commissioners to renew the licences and repeated prosecution in which the offending parties were convicted by the magistrates, the convictions had on appeal been set aside by the session judge and the decision of the latter on point of law having been upheld by the high court, the owners had been able to resist all attempts to close them.51 Instances of this kind abound. On April 8, 1871, for instance, Meajan Mullick, the former licence-holder of Amanuth Ali’s slaughterhouse at Kurriah, was prosecuted before the deputy magistrate of Sealdah for keeping the slaughterhouse open without licence, and on conviction he was fined Rs 100 and Rs 20 daily if the offence was continued. On an appeal to the session judge, the daily fine ordered was set aside, and the fine was reduced to Rs 5. The judge gave his reason that the appellant had not intentionally committed the offence. The slaughterhouse was still in use, Meajan was again charged under Section 1 of Act VII, but he absconded and left the suburbs. As the slaughterhouse continued in use, apparently under the real owners Amanuth Ali and brothers, a fresh prosecution under Section 1 was brought against them.

Amanuth Ali was convicted on July 28, 1870 of the offence, and sentenced to a fine of Rs 51 by the deputy magistrate of Sealdah. On August 29, 1870, the judge reversed this conviction on appeal on the ground that Amanuth Ali had leased his slaughterhouse to Meajan who had again subleased it to one Shahadut Ali, and that the place was carried on for his profit, and he daily received the major portion of the receipts, he could not be held to have used it himself.52

After much hesitation and deliberations, the government of Bengal finally concurred in the views of the committee, and a public slaughterhouse was built up at Tangra, a locality within the jurisdiction of the commissioners of the suburban municipality.53 However, the buildings had been erected by the Justices of the Peace for the town of Calcutta, and it was proposed that the management and control of the places should remain in their hands. The byelaws for the municipal slaughterhouses at Tangra were also prepared in communication with and approval of the chairman of the Justices. The byelaws were elaborate and presumably foolproof. Some of the major clauses deserve mention. First, the municipal commissioners of the suburbs of Calcutta with the sanction of the government of Bengal declared the buildings erected at Tangra near Palmer’s Bridge to be a place provided as a slaughterhouses under Section 2 of Act VII of 1865; second, all butchers and private persons should have free access to the slaughterhouses for the purpose of slaughtering animals intended for public or private consumption; third, butchers intending to avail themselves of the slaughterhouses should apply to the suburban municipality for a licence and a ticket for each of their assistants; fourth, all animals should be brought to the slaughterhouses 12 hours before the time fixed for slaughtering; fifth, no diseased cattle should be brought to the slaughterhouse; sixth, any cattle suspected of being diseased should be removed to a pen attached to the establishment and kept under observation; seventh, no dying or dead cattle should be taken into the slaughterhouses, and any such cattle brought to slaughterhouse should be seized and treated like animal affected with contagious diseases; eighth, to avoid confusion and fraud in the quality of meat, carcasses should be divided into three classes. The stamps affixed to the meat should be of different colours and numbered 1, 2, 3; ninth, no meat should be removed from the slaughterhouses until it had been so stamped; tenth, the skin, entrails, and offal of slaughtered cattle should be collected in the offal room, there to be washed and cleaned before their removal; eleventh, butchers should not be permitted to sell meat in the slaughterhouse premises, but might sell the offal and skin within the yard; but no purchaser of the above material should be on any account admitted within the building.54

It is, however, interesting to know how the schedule of fees payable for each animal at the new public slaughterhouse was prepared and displayed for all concerned.

Schedule of Fees Payable for Each Animal at the New PublicSlaughterhouse

Bullocks and cows 1st Class 4 Annas
Bullocks and cows 2nd Class 2 Annas
Calves 1 Anna
Sheep 2 Annas
Goats 2 Annas
Kids 1 Anna
Pigs 4 Annas

Source: Progs of the GoB, June 1869, Judicial Department, para 93, p 52, WBSA.

Though the Tangra slaughterhouse was opened with much fanfare, the butchers refused to use these new buildings apprehending that their clandestine hide trade would be severely compromised.55 In order to avoid government supervision, the butchers started erecting unlicenced slaughterhouses at the outskirts of the city. Such unlicenced slaughterhouses at Kurriah and Narcoldangah continued in full operation. Hence, hundreds of animals were being slaughtered daily, and these entrails, blood, bones, flesh, etc, started accumulating on the ground adjacent to human habitations. Reports show that few of the inmates of the houses in the locality were free from disease, and the vegetations on their lands were almost all destroyed by the large number of dogs, jackals, vultures that congregated in the locality.

Confusion over the use of slaughterhouses is also noticeable in the army circles. In April 1870, lieutenant colonel N D Dickens asked the government of Bengal to permit the military department of Fort William to use the slaughterhouse at Kidderpore until the new slaughterhouse built by the Calcutta municipality was in a fit state to be used for the purpose.56 Major W C R Mylne informed the dputy commissioner general that the slaughterhouse at Tangra was distant four miles from the cattle and sheep pen at Hastings. Hence, it was necessary that separate shelter should be provided at Tangra for at least three days’ supply of cattle and sheep. It was not expedient that they should be driven that distance on the day of slaughter.57 On visiting the slaughterhouse at Tangra, major W C R Mylne, in fact, made the following complaints: first, the side arches of the building were so high that the meat would be exposed to every storm of dust and rain, second, there was no accommodation for the butcher sergeant, third, there was no grazing whatever near the place, and finally, the neighbourhood was filthy in the extreme, and the stench was intolerable. Hence, it wasn’t practical for the commissary general to use the slaughterhouse at Tangra, which was so distant from the ration ground, unless the issue of meat was deferred until the afternoon of the day of rejection.

Nevertheless, throughout the 19th century, many pressing problems continued to pester the government as ever. The slaughter of animals in private houses in the town continued in full swing, and there was nothing in the law to prevent it.58 Finally, after much deliberation, the commissioners of the municipality of Calcutta framed a law by which it was held that no person should use any place as a slaughterhouse, other than places provided by the commissioners for the purpose, unless he had obtained a licence in writing under the provisions of Section 287 of the Calcutta Municipal Consolidation Act, 1876. However, more often not the law was observed in breaches, and confusion over the cantonment authority’s power to prevent animal slaughter in private houses continued well till 1900.59

Kindness: Post-Colonial or Post-Modern

The 20th century witnessed still further shifts in the attitude of the government towards animals. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation Act, 1980, laid down regulations regarding the slaughter of animals and the abolition of illegal slaughterhouses.60 It ruled that no place other than a municipal slaughterhouse should be used for slaughter of animals. Second, no animal or article shall be sold or exposed for sale by a hawker or squatter within a distance of 45 metres from the outward confines of the municipal market or the licenced private market without the permission of the municipal commissioner. Third, any person contravening the above provisions may be summarily removed by or under the orders of the municipal commissioner by a police officer or any officer or employee of the corporation appointed by him in this behalf. Fourth, if the municipal commissioner or any person authorised by him in this behalf has reason to believe that any animal intended for human consumption is being slaughtered or that the flesh of such animal is being sold or being exposed for sale in any place or manner not duly authorised under this act, he may, at any time by day or night without notice, inspect such place for the purpose of satisfying himself as to whether any provision of this act or of any rule or regulation made there under is being contravened and may seize any such animal or the carcass of such animal or such flesh found therein. Fifth, any person slaughtering any animal or selling or exposing for sale the flesh of any such animal in any place or manner not duly authorised under this act may be arrested by any police without a warrant.

But despite these legal deterrents, our post-colonial government is carrying the colonial baggage strong. In April 2003, even as Kolkata municipal corporation billboards screamed against the slaughter of animals and chickens on thoroughfares, declaring it an offence, open-air slaughterhouses continue to be more the norm than the exception in Kolkata.61

The reasons, however, are not far to seek. There seems to be some material basis for the continued persistence of animal slaughter even in post-colonial Kolkata. Firstly, West Bengal has a cow slaughter act, which prohibits the killing of animals less than 14 years old. But aging cattle, mostly over 14 years, become too expensive to maintain, and these animals, therefore, eventually find their way to slaughterhouses. Secondly, as the killing of cows is prohibited in most states, much of the slaughtering takes place in Kerala and West Bengal, where there is no ban. Cattle from the northern and eastern states are smuggled into West Bengal and millions of them are then transported in appalling conditions to the slaughterhouses of Kolkata. Thirdly, while the meat is usually sent back to the states from where the animals were brought in or exported, agents take rawhide to Kolkata, to be de-fleshed and de-haired into “wet-blue” hide for supply to the leather industry. Such semi-finished hide is processed in the tanneries in eastern Kolkata. While 60 per cent of the raw hide for the leather industry comes from slaughtered animals, 30 per cent is got from “fallen animals” and 10 per cent from imports.62 Estimating the production capacity at 65 million pieces of hide and 170 million pieces of skin, the Council for Leather Exports (CLE) puts the country’s current availability of hides and skins at about 25 million pieces of cow hide, 22 million pieces of buffalo hide, 88 million pieces of goat skin and 33 million pieces of sheep skin. The total contribution of cow hide is higher, considering that the size of a cow hide piece is about 25 square feet, compared to about four square feet for goat or sheepskin. Thus, cattle accounts for over 30 per cent of the leather industry’s primary raw material – half of it from slaughtered cows and bulls.

While the reasons for slaughter and the statistics of slaughtered animals speak for themselves, the way the hapless animals are being killed in most of the slaughterhouses reveal the same brutality so rampant in colonial Calcutta. Despite traditional Indian reverence for the cow, today a thriving international trade in beef and leather means the continued legacy of starvation, thirst, beatings, broken bones and cruel slaughter for the hundreds of thousands of cattle. Old and emaciated cattle in Kolkata are first sent to auctions to be sold for slaughter. At these weekly sales, thousands of bullocks and cows are tethered together in groups of three to seven by ropes run through their painfully pierced noses. At the municipal slaughterhouses in Kolkata, workers, including small children, violently push and drag the animals to the slaughter floor, where they are made to lie in a pool of blood and guts removed from their dead brethrens. The animals are then made to watch their companions die while they wait for their turn, their eyes wide with tears and terror! The workers use dull knives and cut off the animals’ legs, often while the animals are still conscious.63 The plight of chickens, ducks, turkeys, pigs and goats continue to be the same with utmost pain inflicted to them in the process of transportation and slaughtering.

The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) contends that there are laws pertaining to cruelty to animals, and the transport and slaughter of animals, but these are weak and observed more in breaches.64 Transported in cramped lorries that are driven recklessly, many animals die before they reach the slaughterhouses. It is also illegal to injure animals. Yet, traders routinely beat them, smear chilli seeds or tobacco into their eyes, and break their tails. PETA contends that the central government, instead of enforcing these laws, is trying to make it a political issue by banning cow slaughter.

A step towards improving the plight of the animals was taken in December 2002 when a series of legislations were introduced in the Lok Sabha on the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Transport of Animals on Foot) Rules,65 the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules,66 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Establishment and Regulation of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Rules.67 In 2003, a bill banning cow slaughter was made under entry 15 of the State List, which provided for preservation of animals, and states were made free to enact legislation in this regard until Article 252(1) of the Constitution. But the new bill was supposed to be brought under entry 17 of the Concurrent List, which provided for prevention of cruelty against animals. However, in spite of legislations and discussions in the Lok Sabha on prevention of cruelty to animals, the Calcutta scenario refused to exhibit any perceptible change. Animals continue to be slaughtered openly with utmost brutality and the government seems to condone the exigency of the situation.

As late as January 2004, the bird flu scare had gripped the nation and more especially the Calcuttans, evidently because the authorities concerned never paid adequate attention to the hygiene at poultry farms.68 The Central Pollution Control Board has reported that West Bengal leads in the country’s production of meat.69 While the meat production from cows, buffaloes, pigs, sheep, goats and poultry amounted to 4,10,000 tonnes in 1992-93; by 1997-98 the amount had reached 4,27,000 tonnes. Hand in hand with meat production, West Bengal also leads in the country in slaughterhouse pollution. In flagrant violation to Supreme Court regulations on slaughterhouse waste treatment plant and solid waste management, open slaughter of animals in public glare continues unabated in Calcutta. The Central Pollution Control Board chairman V Rajagopalan ordered the West Bengal Pollution Control Board to report the measures taken

ANTHROPOLOGICAL SURVEY OF INDIA

GOVERNMENT OF INDIA DEPARTMENT OF CULTURE

National Advisory Committee for Establishing a National Repository on Human Genetic Resource and Data

The National Advisory Committee for Establishing a National Repository on Human Genetic Resource and Data has been set up by the Department of Culture, Government of India vide their Resolution No. F.12-1/2005-A&A dated 24-10-2005 and published on 10th December, 2005 (Part 1 Sec.1) Gazette of India. The terms and reference of the Committee are as follows:

  • 1. To Consider, Evaluate and Recommend the Establishment of Permanent National Repository for Human Genetic Resources and Data.
  • 2. To suggest regulatory issues involved in such establishment at National level.
  • 3. To consider and recommend ethical, social and legal issues including consent, intellectual property rights, benefit sharing, research, material transfer agreements (MTA) etc., of international standards, involved in collection and storage of DNA, Cell Lines and ancient skeletal material.
  • 4. To suggest operational aspects of the repository including policy issues.
  • 5. To submit the complete report within SIX months from the date of constituting the Committee.
  • The first meeting of the National Advisory Committee was held at Shillong from 23rd to 24th March, 2006. It was decided in the meeting that the terms of reference of the Committee may be given wider publicity by inviting inputs from all concerned.

    Inputs may please be sent to Dr. V.R. Rao, Member Secretary and Director-in-Charge, Anthropological Survey of India, 27, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Kolkata – 700 016

    e-mail address: anthro@cal2.vsnl.net.in ansihead@vsnl.com drraovr@yahoo.com

    to control pollution in Kolkata’s slaughterhouses. But in spite of the ultimatum, the West Bengal Pollution Control Board sent a rather vague and incomplete report to the centre because among the 118 corporations in Kolkata, only 70 had responded to the ultimatum. Thus the lackadaisical attitude of the post-colonial government continues to prevail even in 2005.

    The history of the Kolkata slaughterhouses, in fact, gives one an insight into the dilemma of a colonial as well as post-colonial government. The governments – colonial or post-colonial – need to address their own imperatives enforced upon them by the expanding army or its culinary requirement together with the pressing need for sanitation and hygiene in a burgeoning metropolis. Moreover, the embarrassment about meat eating also provides an example of the way in which a growing number of people had come to find man’s ascendancy over nature increasingly abhorrent to their moral and aesthetic sensibilities. This is, in fact, the human dilemma: how to reconcile the physical requirements of civilisation with the new feelings and values, which that same civilisation has generated.

    1 m

    Email: samiparna80@rediffmail.com

    Notes

    [I am deeply indebted to Bhaskar Chakrabarty, department of history, Calcutta University and Deepak Kumar, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi for lending me some of the insights that went well to inform this article. I would also acknowledge my special debt to Basudeb Chattopadhyay and Arun Bandopadhyay and Rajshekhar Basu for their sustained encouragement and support. Any error of judgment as also fault in argument, however, remains mine.]

    1 Chaudhuri Binay, ‘Agricultural Production in Bengal, 1850-1900:Coexistence of Decline and Growth’, Bengal Past and Present, Vol 86, 1969, pp 166-70.

    2 Crane Robert I, ‘Calcutta in the Nineteenth Century’, Bengal Past and

    Present, Vol XCIX, Part II, No 189, July-December 1980.3 Sinha Pradip, Calcutta in Urban History, Calcutta, 1978, p 28.4 Ibid, Chapter 2.5 Sarkar Sumit, ‘The City Imagined’ in Writing Social History, OUP, 1998,

    pp 166-67.6 Bhattacharya Sabyasachi, ‘Traders and Trades in Old Calcutta’ in Sukanta

    Chaudhuri (ed), Calcutta: The Living City, Vol 1, Calcutta, 1990, p 204.7 Sinha Pradip, op cit.8 Report of the Commissioners appointed to enquire into the origin, nature

    etc, of Indian Cattle Plague, 1871, Calcutta, 1871, p 64.9 Report on the Administration of the Calcutta Customs House for 1874-75, Para 93, Report of the Customs Department Administration, 1874-75.

    10 Stuart Hogg, to the secretary (hereafter secy) to the government of Bengal(hereafter GoB), Public Works Department (hereafter PWD). Proceedings(hereafter Progs) of the GoB, Judicial Department (hereafter Judl Dept),August 1876, No 12, West Bengal State Archives (hereafter WBSA).

    11 Report of the Calcutta SPCA for the year 1903-1904, ‘Truth’, January 8,

    1903, National Library (hereafter NL), Kolkata.12 Ibid. 13 Report of the Calcutta SPCA for the year 1903-1904, Shoe and Leather

    Reporter, Morocco Manufacturers Meet, Speech of Congressman Burk,

    January 15, 1903, NL, Kolkata.14 Ibid. 15 Ibid. 16 Ibid. 17 Ibid. 18 C Grant, honorary secretary, to the president and members of committee,

    Calcutta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, dated CalcuttaJune 30, 1870. Proceedings of the government of Bengal (hereafter Progsof the GoB), Judl Dept, June 1871, pp 117-19, WBSA.

    19 Ibid. 20 C Grant, op cit, p 118. 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid. 23 Ibid, pp 118-19. 24 Ibid. 25 Koyeli Chakravarty and Madhumita Chatterjee, ‘History of Speciesist

    Thought’, History (ed), Arabinda Samanta, Vol V, No 1, University ofBurdwan, 2002.

    26 Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes inEngland, 1500-1800, London, 1983, p 150.

    27 Ibid.

    28 John Flavell, Husbandry Spiritualised, 1669, p 206.

    29 Keith Thomas, op cit.

    30 Ibid.

    31 Pepys, Diary vii, 223-24; Philos Trans; xxii (1702 for 1700-1701), 76985; John Ray, Historia Plantarum (1686-1704), i, 46, cited in KeithThomas, op cit, p 151.

    32 More, Utopia, 71, cited in Keith Thomas, op cit, p 294.

    33 Vaughan William, The Golden Grove, 1608, cited in Keith Thomas, op cit, p 294.

    34 Thomas Keith, op cit, p 294.

    35 Fletcher R, A Few Notes on Cruelty to Animal, 1846; Booth Charles, Life and Labour of the People in London, 1920, p 20, cited in KeithThomas, op cit, p 295.

    36 Rawlinson, Mercy to a Beast, p 34; Cock Charles George, English Law, 1651, p 155, cited in Keith Thomas, op cit, p 295.

    37 Malcolmson, Popular Recreations, p 135.

    38 Koyeli Chakravarty and Madhumita Chatterjee, op cit.

    39 Report of the Calcutta SPCA for the Year 1900, Rai Issur Chandra Mitter Bahadur’s speech in the Annual General Meeting of the SPCA, NL.

    40 C Grant, honourary secretary, Calcutta Society for the Prevention ofCruelty to Animal, to Rivers Thompson, Offg Secy to the GoB, RevenueDepartment Programmes of the GoB, Judl Dept, June 1871, p 115,WBSA.

    41 Ibid.

    42 Ibid, p 116.

    43 C Grant, honourary secretary, to the President and Members of Committee,Calcutta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Progs of theGoB, Judl Dept, June 1871, No 127, p 119, WBSA.

    44 Ibid, pp 119-20.

    45 Ibid, p 120.

    46 Progs of the GoB, Judl Dept, April 1871, No 101, p 66, WBSA.

    47 Stuart Hogg, to the secy to the GoB, PWD, Progs of the GoB, Judl Dept,August 1876, No 12, Para 3, File No 62, p 71, WBSA.

    48 Ibid, Para 6, p 71.

    49 C H Campbell, Commissioner of the Presidency Division, to the Secyto the GoB, Progs of the GoB, Judl Dept, April 1871, No 105, Para 6,p 71, GBSA.

    50 J P Walker, MD, secy to the sanitary commissioner for Bengal, to theofficiating secy to the GoB, Progs of the GoB, June 1864, General Dept,No 56, p 75, WBSA.

    51 Administrative Report of the Municipality of the Suburbs of Calcuttafor 1870-71, Appendix to the Progs of the GoB, Judl Dept, August 1871,p 21, WBSA.

    52 H T Princep, Offg chairman, suburban municipality, to the commissionerof the presidency division, Progs of the GoB, Judl Dept, April 1871,Para 20, p 75, WBSA.

    53 Rivers Thompson, Offg commissioner of the presidency division, to thesecy to the GoB, Progs of the GoB, Judl Dept, June 1869, No 29, p 50, WBSA.

    54 A Smith, chairman of the suburban municipality, to the commissionerof the presidency division, Progs of the GoB, June 1869, Judl Dept,Para 93, pp 51-52, WBSA.

    55 C Grant, op cit, p 115.

    56 Lt Col N D Dickens, for commissary general, to the secy to the GoB,Progs of the GoB, May 1870, Judl Dept, No 132, p 123, WBSA.

    57 Major W C R Mylne, assistant commissary general, Calcutta, to the deputycommissary general, lower circles, Progs of the GoB, May 1870, JudlDept, p 124, WBSA.

    58 H L Harrison, chairman of the corporation of the town of Calcutta, tothe secy to the GoB, municipal dept, Progs of the GoB, February 1885,municipal dept, pp 7-8, WBSA.

    59 Brigadier general A Gaselee, Offg quartermaster general in India, to thesecy to the government of India, military dept, Progs of the GoB, municipaldept, B Proceedings, November 1900, pp 1-3, WBSA.

    60 Kolkata Municipal Corporation Act, 1980, Sections 428-30.

    61 Mukherjee Rina, ‘Slaughterhouses escape KMC knife’, Hindustan Times, Kolkata, April 4, 2003.

    62 Mohammed Hashim of the Council for Leather Exports.

    63 PETA investigator.

    64 Asha Krishnakumar, Frontline, Volume 20, Issue 18, August 30-September 12, 2003.

    65 Published in Notification No S O 268(E) in Gazette of India, dated the March 26, 2001.

    66 Published in Notification No S O 270(E) in Gazette of India, dated the March 26, 2001.

    67 Published in Notification No S O 271(E) in Gazette of India, dated the March 26, 2001.

    68 The Times of India, Kolkata, January 29, 2004, p 3.

    69 Anandabazar Patrika, August 24, 2005.

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