Beef slaughter ban hits Indian farmers

MAHARASHTRA, INDIA (REUTERS) - Every week, farmers travel to this cattle market in Maharashtra state. These days few people are buying. Cows are considered sacred in Hinduism and their slaughter has historically beef banned in most Indian states but rarely enforced.

India is the world's largest exporter of beef. That's all changed over the past year after the government extended the slaughter ban to other types of cattle like bulls and bullocks.

Added to that is a rise in attacks on traders by Hindu vigilantes eager to enforce the ban. Some farmers are now willing to sell their bulls at half the price they paid for them.

"I bought them for $600 but now nobody wants to buy them. I am even willing to sell them for $200 to $300, but because of the ban on cow slaughter, the butchers are not buying. They need to remove this ban," said farmer Revaji Choudhary.

Business has also taken a hit from the persistent drought.

Farmer suicides have nearly doubled in the state, as millions of them struggle to sell animals they can no longer feed. Others are simply abandoning their cattle.

Their distress is causing concern within Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government. It has pledged nearly $13 billion for rural development and aims to double farmers' incomes by 2022.

In Maharashtra, hundreds of temporary shelters have been opened to house cattle until their owners can take them back. Some observers say in that state alone another four million animals need to be cared for.