cow politics

In Rajasthan, a sadhvi and her cow vigilante group are slowly gaining popularity

After Kamal Didi targetted a Jaipur hotel on Sunday for allegedly serving beef, she says more people want to join her organisation.

Not many in Rajasthan had heard of Sadhvi Kamal Didi till June last year when she and a hundred supporters blocked the national highway in Pratapgarh district. They were protesting the arrest of five of her followers for assaulting a truck driver and his helper claiming that they were smuggling cows. Kamal Didi stood victorious that day – not only did she get the arrested men released, the station house officer was transferred.

“After that incident, over 780 volunteers joined the holy cause of gau raksha” or cow protection, the national president of the Rashtriya Gau Raksha Dal’s women’s wing said on Wednesday in Jaipur, while making a round of the city in her car with a few volunteers. “And after this Sunday’s incident, we have so far received over 1,000 calls from potential volunteers. We need to organise an orientation meeting at the earliest.”

The Sunday incident referred to the siege she and a crowd of about 50 supporters laid to a hotel in Jaipur’s Sindhi Camp area that they claimed was serving beef. They assaulted two employees of the Hayat Rabbani Hotel after Kamal Didi saw one of them throw some meat in a nearby dumpyard. The police backed Kamal Didi’s followers. The hotel was sealed, the two employees arrested and the meat sent for forensic testing.

The slaughter of cows, calves, bulls and bullocks, and possession and transport of their meat is banned in Rajasthan. But it is legal to kill and eat buffaloes.

Kamal Didi said was tending to some ailing cows when she saw the hotel employee, a 19-year-old boy, dump the meat. She said she recalled conversations with residents in the area that the hotel organised “beef parties”. She decided to summon her followers and take action against the hotel.

Love for the cow

Kamal Didi’s Rashtriya Gau Raksha Dal is no stranger to protest marches and recruitment drives. On February 14, it organised a march with around 1,000 volunteers in Jaipur. “We chose February 14 because we believe the youth is quite misguided,” Kamal Didi said. “This day, which the youth celebrate as Valentines Day, should rather be dedicated to the love for the holy cow.”

She admitted that these drives had so far failed to attract volunteers in large numbers. But incidents such as those in Pratapgarh and Sindhi Camp had proved to be big draws.

Twenty six-year-old Lucky Kumawat, a volunteer with the Rashtriya Gau Raksha Dal, agreed. “Such incidents actually generate awareness among the masses,” he said.

Kamal Didi’s may be a name people are only now hearing of, but the Rashtriya Gau Raksha Dal has been around for a while in Rajasthan (though unregistered till late 2014) and in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana. Its chief, Satish Kumar, was arrested in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, in August on charges of criminal assault, extortion, robbery and sodomy among others. But Kamal Didi insisted his arrest was due to “political reasons”.

Early years of a gau rakshak

Kamal Didi was born Kamlesh Sharma in Haryana’s Jhajjar district in 1977. At age 12, she found a mentor in Acharya Yogendra Arya, president of the Haryana unit of the Rashtriya Gau Raksha Dal and a member of the state government’s Gau Sewa Aayog. By the time she turned 16, she had moved to Rajasthan with her parents and had become Sadhvi Kamal. She earned the title Didi (older sister) over 20 years of cow activism in both states.

Cow protection groups are especially notorious in Haryana, which despite having a police special task force for cow protection does not hesitate to seek the help of vigilante groups. Scroll.in had earlier reported on the Gau Sewa Aayog’s efforts to validate cow protection groups by issuing them government-approved identity cards.

Rajasthan is the first state in India to form a dedicated government department for cows – Gopalan. But no vigilante leader has found a place in the official hierarchy. “This is something the state should seriously consider at this stage,” said Kamal Didi, who has been active in Jaipur for nearly 12 years. She became president of the Rashtriya Gau Raksha Dal’s women’s wing only two and a half years ago.

Kamal Didi said one of the activities that keeps her group busy through the year is chasing a gang that inject drugs into cattle whose owners leave them out during the day to graze. She claimed that these drugs make the cows produce extra milk, which the gang then steals at night. The cow protection group is also caught in a tussle with factory owners who dump toxic waste in pond where many stray animals gather. This has caused the deaths of many cows, she claimed. In addition, they have taken up the deteriorating condition of the Hingonia cow shelter, considered one of the best in Asia, and are protesting against frequent cattle fairs organised in Bagru town in the outskirts of Jaipur.

“Didi, we have to go to the industrial area tomorrow,” Ram Saini, a 19-year-old volunteer, reminded Kamal Didi. The driver of the vehicle, Sandeep Dosaya, 20, was a volunteer as well.

A mob of cow vigilantes, led by Kamal Didi, lays siege to the Hotel Hayat Rabbani in Jaipur on Sunday. (Photo credit: Ravi Shankar Vyas / IANS)
A mob of cow vigilantes, led by Kamal Didi, lays siege to the Hotel Hayat Rabbani in Jaipur on Sunday. (Photo credit: Ravi Shankar Vyas / IANS)

Vigilante network

All three men accompanying Kamal Didi on Wednesday are residents of Bagru. Kumawat’s family owns an eatery in the neighbouring town while the other two are studying commerce for their graduation. Bagru alone has contributed 300 volunteers to the Rashtriya Gau Raksha Dal, they said. “We came to know about the group from seniors in the village and through friend circles,” said Saini, who joined the group some two years ago and has been with it longer than Kumawat and Dosaya.

The group claims to have 7,500 members in Rajasthan, 2,200 of them women. It has taken on an organised shape under Kamal Didi’s leadership; she had it registered as a non-governmental organisation in 2014. This financial year, it claims to have saved 583 cows across the state.

The members said they work like a widespread network and exchange information through a WhatsApp group. When they hear of suspected cattle smugglers, they apprehend them near highway toll plazas. They claimed they do not use barricades to stop the vehicles – a common practice in Haryana – as this could invite police action against them.

“Most suspects are detected through cow dung marks that they leave behind on the roads they take,” said Kamal Didi. “The protocol is to stop them and then call the police. But the police take time to reach the spot in remote areas and the smugglers are often armed. Occasionally, violence is witnessed, but in almost all cases, it is the villagers who thrash the smugglers and not the gau rakshaks. How can anyone control the devoted villagers’ emotions for the holy cow?”

She added, “I wish we had better police and gau rakshak coordination in Rajasthan like we have in Haryana.”

Next stop: Uttar Pradesh

Apart from these states, the Rashtriya Gau Raksha Dal also has a presence in Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. In fact, Uttar Pradesh, where the Bharatiya Janata Party has formed the government under the chief ministership of Adityanath in the last few days, is where Kamal Didi is headed next to recruit volunteers. The group has identified the state as a major destination of smuggled cattle and a team of gau rakshaks under the leadership of one Krishn Pal Singh is already active there.

“I shall be there by April 10,” Kamal Didi said. “Already, several zonal meetings have been planned. I had to postpone my visit because of the state elections. Now that Yogi Adityanath ji is in power, Ram raj [the rule of Ram] has to come and Gau Mata has to get justice.”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.