It is 9 am, the busiest time of the day, and Munuswamy is busy sharpening his knife at the Pernambut slaughterhouse. It is one of the four licenced slaughterhouses in Vellore where cattle (excluding cows) are killed for meat. Forty-five-year old Munuswamy is one among the many dalits in the district who eke out a livelihood by skinning cattle at the slaughterhouse.
“When you skin cattle, you start from the tail. Only then will you be able to take out the entire hide without damaging it,” Munuswamy says as he skillfully manoeuvers his knife through a dead buffalo calf.
Munuswamy, who learnt the skill from his father, has been in the profession for the past 25 years. “We skin around five to six cattle every day. We are daily wagers. Our wages are fixed at ₹300 per day, irrespective of the number of cattle we skin,” he explains.
Earlier, the wages were higher. Five years back, when there was a steady supply of live cattle from states such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal, skinners like Munuswamy used to work in different slaughterhouses to supplement their earning. Today, Munuswamy is on the verge of unemployment because of a sharp decline in the transport of both live cattle and hide from northern states to Tamil Nadu over the past two years.
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