It's not pretty. But the trade in camel meat has surprising advocates in the western desert state of Rajasthan.
For centuries, the Raika, a caste of camel breeders, have worshipped the hardy animal the way most Hindus revere the cow. But with the demise of the royal camel herds kept by the state's once-plentiful rajas and maharajas, followed by the replacement of camel carts with cheap cars and trucks, the few camel breeders that remain in Rajasthan worry that outlawing camel slaughter will ensure they disappear altogether.
That's because unlike wild animals, the continued survival of domesticated livestock depends on their profitability, argues Hanwant Singh Rathore, who runs a nonprofit called Lokhit Pashu Palak Sansthan, or "Welfare Organization for Livestock Keepers," that works closely with the Raika. “Nobody is buying camels, so nobody is keeping camels,” Rathore said.
At that time, India had the world's third-largest population of wild and domesticated camels, so it seemed a natural choice. But soon after she arrived, the anthropologist learned that India's main camel herders, a desert-dwelling caste called the Raika, were unlike the Bedouin or any other camel-based society she'd ever encountered. Moreover, their cultural taboos were rapidly causing the animal from which they'd always derived their identity to disappear.
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