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Bakr-Eid 2020: get your goat online

As Eid nears, and some states like Maharashtra rule out goat markets at a late hour, traders rush to social media to reach buyers

A selfie with a goat at the Khairuddin Mosque in Amritsar, 2019.      Getty Images
A selfie with a goat at the Khairuddin Mosque in Amritsar, 2019. Getty Images

The video shows Saif Chunawala and Sahil Sayyed in a small, dingy room lit by a fluorescent tube light. Around 20 goats mill around: big and small, white and brown, plain and spotted. “This is the Sirohi breed," Sayyed tells the cameraperson. “We want to sell them for Bakr-Eid. For qurbani (sacrifice)."

They reel out the specs: The goats weigh 50-80kg, are up to 42 inches in height and old enough to have sprouted teeth. They have been raised on a diet of corn, jowar and “green leaves". “Iske kaan dekho, length dekho, shining dekho (Look at its ears, its length, its shine)," Chunawala says as Sayyed strokes a goat’s back. “Mashallah," the cameraperson says. “Mashallah," the duo agrees.

Those interested can swing by this room in suburban Mumbai, the sellers say. Given the restrictions on movement, home delivery within the metropolis is also on offer. The duo directs the viewer to their phone numbers, flashing on the screen. “I am available anytime," Chunawala adds.

The video was uploaded on the YouTube channel FSA Entertainment on 15 July, alongside dozens of similar videos featuring farmers, traders and “enthusiasts" seeking to sell their goats online. When I spoke to Chunawala four days later , he only had five goats left. “I got hundreds of calls after I uploaded the video," he says. “That’s the advantage of selling online: You connect with parties from across the world."

An aerial view of the livestock market in Kolkata ahead of Bakr-Eid in 2019. Getty Images
An aerial view of the livestock market in Kolkata ahead of Bakr-Eid in 2019. Getty Images

For an unorganized sector like goat rearing, online sales have traditionally accounted for only a small portion of total sales. Be it Eid or otherwise, most buyers prefer to visit a cattle fair and inspect the goats. Islamic rules mandate that a goat that is too young, handicapped or in distress can’t be sacrificed. So buyers want to check. For many, it’s a family tradition: A father takes his children to the market and teaches them how to identify the “right" goat. Prices depend on the breed—a 60kg Sirohi goat, for example, can cost 20,000-25,000.

In the midst of the pandemic, however, some cities and states are not allowing goat mandis (markets) ahead of Bakr-Eid on 1 August. The list includes cities in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh and the entire state of Maharashtra. “It’s difficult to avoid crowding in such markets," says a senior official from the Deonar abattoir in Mumbai. The abattoir hosts one of the biggest such markets before Bakr-Eid every year and sees sales of nearly 250,000 animals over two weeks. The alternative then? “Sell online," the official says.

Since the notification banning markets came late—on 18 July in Maharashtra—many sellers, who had started preparing for Eid weeks in advance, find themselves in a bind. While the city and state administrations have asked them to go “online", no platform has been created to facilitate sales. Some private platforms have jumped in to fill the gap as the more enterprising sellers start exploring social media—WhatsApp, YouTube and Facebook—to reach out to consumers. As Eid draws closer, they are creating posters, circulating images, shooting and uploading videos and posting status updates on their animals, with plenty of livestock emoticons.

The YouTube and Instagram channels of FSA Entertainment offer one such platform. Their Mumbai-based creator, Fahad Zariwala, hit upon the idea after a video he made on the annual goat mandi in Deonar in 2016 went viral. “So I thought, why not monetize it?" he says.

Through the year, Zariwala travels around the country, partnering with commercial farmers to promote their livestock. For a fee, he shoots the goats with his camera-phone, interviews the sellers, and edits and uploads the videos for his 793,000 subscribers. With Eid around the corner, he has ramped up the shoots and uploads up to six videos a day.

There are a dozen channels like Zariwala’s, including the Bhopal-based National Bakra Team, with 460,000 subscribers, and Thane-based Bakra Kingdom, with 224,000 subscribers. On an average, the makers charge 1,500-2,500 per shoot. In some cases, the sellers shoot their own videos and the channels upload them for a fee.

Watch these videos and you would think they are selling personalities, not animals. The goats have names (King, Sultan, Phantom) and character (“this is a polite one"; “Isme bohot garmi hai bhai (this one is aggressive)". At times, the goats are made to walk, strut, jump and bare their teeth. It’s almost like watching the auditions of a talent contest.

Video calls are an essential feature of online sales. Asif Iqbal, partner at the Gurugram-based MS Farms, has around 200 goats at a hotel under construction, ready for sale. He connects with customers via his Facebook page. “I show them the goats, they choose one and I colour-mark the ones they want, marking the animals with the customers’ initials."

Most of Iqbal’s customers are based in Delhi. Some collect in person, others prefer a delivery. Some want to inspect the goats too: For them, Iqbal offers 30-minute time slots via his Facebook page. He has also set up a sanitization tunnel at the site for the animals to walk through before delivery.

Iqbal sold around 10,000 goats in 2019. Two weeks before this Eid, he had only sold a few hundred. As the festival draws closer, demand will pick up, but probably not as much as in previous years. “Many lost their money during the lockdown," he says. He has pinned his hopes on a Sojat goat with a black scrawl that looks like the word “Mohammad" written in Urdu. It’s in a “special category", he says. “I want to sell it at 1 crore"—no discounts for recession.

There are, of course, limitations to the online model. “A lot of people are illiterate and don’t know how to go about an online transaction," says Hashim Shaikh, a goat trader from Bhiwandi, Maharashtra. “There are no guarantees or return policies. It is entirely trust-based."

Shaikh, too, has started advertising via WhatsApp. But many customers are wary. “One of my friends struck a deal of 26,000 for four goats with someone he found online. He transferred the money but the seller refused to pick up his calls (there)after." Many goats, he adds, are sourced from villages in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan. “So you can’t even track them down after."

There are platforms that offer more security, though. Take, a website set up in 2016 that sources goats from farmers for sale across India. Goat mandis have their drawbacks, says Vinay Gautam, chief operating officer of the website. “The goats often aren’t inspected by veterinarians, so there are chances of zoonotic diseases spreading during qurbani."

Gautam pitches his website for its hygiene controls: Once sourced, he says, each goat undergoes a thorough inspection by a qualified vet. Images of the goats are then put up on the website, with details of height, weight, age and colour. At a time when Lucknow, home to the founders, is not allowing mandis, the website has already seen bookings for over 400 goats for the city. Last year, it was 200 around Eid.

Still, it’s not much. “There will need to be a change in habit before online sales become a norm," says Gautam. “Earlier, many would not buy clothes online because they wanted to try them on for size. But now you do. With time, this will work out too."

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