In 2014, soon after Narendra Modi became prime minister, the Gau Raksha Dal cow protection outfit roped in former dacoit Renu Yadav and made her its general secretary in Uttar Pradesh, hoping to give a boost to its activities.

For some time, Yadav, driven by a desire for fame, conducted regular, ferocious raids against cattle traders in the state's Itawa-Auraiya-Kanpur belt.

Within two years, however, she became thoroughly disillusioned and abandoned cow protection activities completely.

“These gau rakshaks are worse than the thugs of the ravines,” Yadav, who lives in Kasba Jana village in Auraiya district, told Scroll. “You can’t trust them. Like a fool, I used to take risks and conduct raids. But every time, the exercise used to end in cattle traders giving a bribe to other leaders of Gau Raksha Dal and the police. They had formed a nexus with the police and kept it secret from me for long,” she added.

A terror in the Chambal ravines, Renu Yadav belonged to the gang of dreaded dacoit Chandan Yadav. In 2005, after Chandan Yadav and some of his gang members were killed in an encounter, she surrendered to the police. “I remained in prison for seven years, three months and 15 days,” she said. “After coming out, I worked for Samajwadi Party and campaigned extensively for Dimple Yadav [the wife of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav] during the Lok Sabha election of 2014.”

Nexus with police

A few months after the Lok Sabha elections, she was approached by the state president of Gau Raksha Dal, Shrikrishna Pal, who offered her the post of general secretary of the outfit. “I accepted it because I venerate the cow," Yadav said. "I thought this way I would serve gau mata and earn a new image for myself.”

She added: “I gathered some unemployed young men and started conducting raids on regular basis. After every successful raid, we used to hand over cattle traders and transporters to police, thinking that they would be punished. But that never happened. On every occasion, I found out later, other leaders of Gau Raksha Dal used to enter into some kind of deal with cattle traders, who would then be let off by the police. The nexus between these leaders and police is so strong that no one can break it."

On his part, Pal refused to concede that he or any other leader of his outfit has any nexus with the police. “That is a totally baseless allegation," he said. "Our aim is to serve the cow because the cow symbolises the essence of Hindu Rashtra.”

Pal admitted that Renu Yadav “worked hard” and “saved five [hundred] to 600” cows after she joined the outfit and that for last couple of months she had suddenly become inactive. “She should have complained to me," he said. "In any case, these are our internal issues. I will talk to her, and everything will be resolved.”

That, however, is not how the former bandit looks at Pal and his Gau Raksha Dal. “I used to have high regards for Doctor Saab [Pal is also a practitioner of naturopathy and likes to be referred to as ‘Doctor’]," she said. "But now I don’t because he cheated me. He always played safe. I remember that he never accompanied us during raids and always had some excuse to be absent from operations on the ground. After raids, however, he used to emerge from I don’t know where and reach the police station to take care of the remaining part of cow protection.”

It is not that Renu Yadav has had a change of heart – she finds nothing wrong in all that she did in the name of cow protection. Nor did she ever think that by protecting cows she would be furthering a political ideology that seeks to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra. It is just that she cannot comprehend how anyone vowing to protect the gau mata could get away with such a cavalier attitude towards what she considers sacred.

That anger – and not remorse of any kind – is at the heart of her disillusionment with the Gau Raksha Dal.