cow politics

Why Hindu farmers and cattle traders in Rajasthan are angry with gau rakshaks

Those who buy and sell milch cows and oxen for farm work say cow vigilantes have made it impossible for them to conduct their business.

Cow vigilantism has been portrayed as a blowback against the Muslim community’s insistence on consuming beef, unmindful of the fact that slaughtering cows hurts Hindus who worship the animal. This depiction has framed the cow as an incendiary issue between Hindus and Muslims, an irreconcilable clash of cultures, so to speak.

This narrative was challenged during a three-day dharna that civil society groups and a clutch of political parties organised in Jaipur from April 24 to protest the killing of Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer who was waylaid in Alwar on April 1 while transporting milch cattle to his farm.

“We insisted it was not a Muslim issue,” said Kavita Srivastava, president, Rajasthan People’s Union for Civil Liberties, who was one of the organisers of the demonstration. “Lynching is unacceptable because it does away with the rule of law.”

Srivastava said the dharna was also a protest against criminalising the victim. “The Rajasthan home minister [Gulab Chand Kataria] continues to defend those who killed Pehlu Khan,” she said. “They are gau goondas, not gau rakshaks.”

It is very likely that some readers will dismiss Srivastava’s remark as typical of the irreverence Left-liberal activists have for religion and its symbols. But Srivastava’s sentiment is shared by many Hindu farmers, dairy owners and traders who are simmering with anger against thugs masquerading as cow protectors.

Their anger is reflected in six separate clips made from a lengthy video that a journalist friend sent to this writer. He filmed it at the cattle market held every week in Jaipur. The footage was shot on April 8. The journalist-friend’s questions to a cattle trader triggered a passionate debate in which both Hindus and Muslims participated, belying the claims that the two communities have been divided because of their contrarian sentiments on the cow.

Each of the clips in the story is followed by a synopsis for those who do not understand Hindi.

‘One-way export of cattle’

Play

In the first clip, a man in a white shirt introduces himself as Kailash, a dairy farmer who has been in the cattle trade for 35 years. He says vehicles from Rajasthan ferry milch cows to Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, but always return empty. Are they being milked? “We do not know,” he declares, suggesting they might have been slaughtered.

The export of cattle from Rajasthan has had three consequences, Kailash claims. The price of cows has shot up, their population in Rajasthan has dwindled, their rampant sale has deprived farmers’ children of milk.

A vociferous rebuttal

Play

The second video shows Kailash’s comments have enraged those around him. They accuse him of lying. Different voices are heard, though the religious identity of speakers is not always obvious. They counter Kailash on each and every point. A voice claims that Rajasthani farmers breed cows, which are counted as among the best in the country. Why breed cows in the absence of an organised dairy farming in the state, counters Kailash, who is again rebutted by many voices clamouring simultaneously.

The clip ends with a man in a checked shirt asking the videographer to follow him.

A cow worth Rs 1 lakh

Play

In the third clip, the man in the checked shirt, bristling with rage, says he is Nemichand, a son of a Jat. He is shown standing next to a cow, which he says is worth Rs 1 lakh and gives 40 litres of milk daily. He challenges those who accuse farmers of selling cows for slaughter to come before them instead of waylaying them on roads. “Two cases have been filed against me,” Nemichand says.

‘Take care of plastic-eating cows first’

Play

In this video, Nemichand punctures some of the pet theories of cow protectionists. Referring to the Rs 1-lakh cow he had shown to the videographer, he and others say it makes no sense to sell it for slaughter as its meat and other parts, such as skin, would fetch the buyer between Rs 5,000-Rs 6,000 and Rs 8,000-Rs 10,000. Nemichand hurls expletives at gau rakshaks for the sheer irrationality of their accusation – and violent actions.

Others demand to know why gau rakshaks do not look after cows foraging in rubbish heaps, which consume plastic and die. Nemichand says that if Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi pay Rs 20 lakh to each dairy owner, they would stop trading in cattle. Later in the clip, Nemichand asks the videographer to send pictures of abandoned cows to Modi and Adityanath, saying if they arrange feed and water for them, he and others would stop their dhanda (business).

The people around him break into a chant: “Hum dhanda nahin karegein.” We will not do this business.

‘Just do the math’

Play

The fifth clip is of Narendra Bhatore from Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, who comes to Rajasthan to buy cows. He testifies to Shiv Sainiks harassing him and others in the trade, and says he cannot kill the cow because Hindu religion prohibits it, apart from the fact that it makes little economic sense to buy an animal for Rs 50,000 only to slaughter it.

Earlier, 20 vehicles would come from Madhya Pradesh to cart away cattle from Rajasthan. The number is now down to just two. Narendra describes his scary encounter with the cow protectionists in Deoli, Rajasthan, in 2016. His animals were seized, and the court case continues. “They beat me very badly,” says Narendra. “Had the police not arrived, I would have died.”

‘Can’t transport holy cows’

Play

In this sixth video, Azharuddin, who has come from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh to Jaipur, says he buys animals for mahatmas, or holy men, who run ashrams. They provide him with letters and he secures the requisite permits before ferrying the cattle from Jaipur. Yet the Bajrang Dal activists accost him, impervious to his pleas that he purchases cows on behalf of mahatmas who worship them.

Azharuddin says he has been attacked twice, once in Bharatpur, near Agra, where his two vehicles with 15 cows and calves were seized. Each animal cost him Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.25 lakh. A case was filed against him. The cows were sent to a gaushala. Ultimately, Azharuddin won the case, but nine of his animals in the gaushala had perished by then.

Azharuddin claims that the attacks on traders and transporters of cattle began two years ago. “It has been particularly bad since Yogi Adityanath became chief minister,” he says. “This is because he speaks in a partisan language.”

These videos testify to gau rakshaks not even sparing Hindu farmers and traders ferrying cows purchased legitimately from cattle marts. It is, therefore, bewildering why the plight of Hindu victims of cow vigilantism has not been reported in the national media. Is it because a story on cow vigilantism is considered worthy only when it victimises a Muslim, or there is a dead person to mourn? Are such heartfelt narratives exploited to bring about a polarisation between Hindus and Muslims?

‘Safer to breed goats’

Hindu farmers and traders have been attacked not only on highways, too far away from their homes for anyone to come to their rescue, but also near their farms located in the vicinity of where they stay.

Take Rajinder Singh Bhati, an Army clerk who retired at the age of 36, in 2006. He decided to enter into the dairy sector, not least because he was deeply interested in cross breeding cows. His farm, Tanotrai, is just a 40-minute drive from Jaipur, and his stock comprised 70 heads. Until 2014, he supplied 450 litres of milk daily to Jaipur.

Typically, Bhati would transport cows that were not in lactation from Tanotrai to other farms he has elsewhere. These serve as pastures for them. “It cuts down the cost of production,” Bhati explained. With Tanotrai as his base, he hops from one farm to another through the year.

Before embarking on such a trip one day in September 2014, he instructed his most trusted farmhand to transport 10 cows from Tanotrai to another farm of his. In his absence, the cows were loaded onto a vehicle and driven out.

But just 2 km later, members of the Gau Rakshak Seva Samiti swooped down upon Bhati’s vehicle. They claimed that the cows were being taken to a slaughterhouse. Bhati said that the villagers intervened only because his brother had been the panchayat head. The police seized the truck and the farmhand spent a night in the lock-up.

“I returned to Tanotrai, showed the authorities the relevant documents I possessed, and told them I had served in the Army,” Bhati recalled. “My man was released as were the cows.”

But life was not to be the same for Bhatti thereafter. The farmhand was so frightened he left Bhati’s service. “I was completely dependent on that man,” said Bhati. “You need honest people in the dairy business because it is so easy to adulterate milk. I just couldn’t get a replacement for him.”

He could not get a replacement because the farm’s reputation was tarnished. It was made out as if Bhati bred cows to ultimately sell them to slaughterhouses. His interest in cows did not measure to the risk of incurring the wrath of gau rakshaks. “I sold 60 of them, keeping 10 for my family’s need for milk, and I breed goats now,” Bhati said with a chuckle.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Bhati might have had the resources to switch from breeding cows to goats, but such options are not available to most. He says what is common knowledge: that most farmers rear two or three cows to supplement their income from agriculture. This is more so in Rajasthan because it does not have an elaborate irrigation network so its farmers are vulnerable to the vagaries of monsoon rains.

“Farmers sell those cows which stop giving milk and use the proceeds to partially finance a new cow,” said Bhati. “But with gau rakshaks around, who would want to risk rearing cows?”

This is why dairy farmers, big and small, are dismayed, and angry, at the havoc gau rakshaks have wreaked on the rural economy. But they have not been able to unite against their tormentors or mount pressure on the state government to provide protection to them. “It is difficult to unite a person who has two cows with one who has 20 or 70 or 100,” Bhati said.

The Modi effect

So controversial has the cattle trade become that even the authorities are reluctant to issue relevant documents to those who purchase cattle from markets. This reluctance took an ironic twist for Shailendra Singh, who is no ordinary man. As Deputy Superintendent of Police who headed Uttar Pradesh’s Special Task Force for Poorvanchal in the early 2000s, Singh took on politician-dons Brijesh Singh and Mukhtar Ansari in Varanasi. In 2004, he apprehended an army deserter who was going to deliver a light machine gun to Ansari, which was when he came under tremendous pressure from Mulayam Singh Yadav, then the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. In a huff, Singh resigned from the police service, and joined the Anna movement against corruption. He then joined the Congress, fought on its tickets from Chandauli in Uttar Pradesh in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, and after meeting Modi twice, entered the Bharatiya Janata Party. Singh was in charge of Modi’s Varanasi war room during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

At the end of April, Singh bought cows in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, and sought certificates from the district authorities vouching for the legitimacy of his purchase. But the authorities declined his request. “What am I going to show gau rakshaks?” Singh asked them.

Since the authorities did not relent, an angry Singh tweeted to Modi’s twitter handle about his plight. It prompted the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene – the relevant documents were handed over to him.

Singh thanked Modi through this tweet:

“I was able to reach Modi,” Singh said. “But the aam aadmi can’t. If we can’t breed cows, improve our stock or even rear them, the rural economy can’t be given a boost.”

Oxen trade in trouble too

But it is not just about extortion and violence, for once the cattle are seized, they are sent to gaushalas until their buyers are able to secure release orders from courts. “They just don’t look after cows there,” said Parash Ram Banjara, convener of the Banjara Vikas Shakti Sangathan, who has been campaigning against cow vigilantism. “The buyers have to provide food and water and milk to them. It adds to their cost. Some just decide to abandon them.”

In October, Banjara organised a public protest against Bajrang Dal activists who abducted a member of the Banjara community and his two sons along with the six oxen they had purchased from Rajsamand district to sell them in South Rajasthan. (His interview can be read here).

“We Banjaras trade in oxen, not in cows,” said Banjara. “These oxen are used to plough the rocky terrain of South Rajasthan. Trading oxen is our identity, our right. And, mind you, we too are Hindus. But the vigilantes have turned the cow into an emotional issue for their dubious ends.”

It is palpable that cow vigilantism has many worried and they aren’t just Muslims. Some fear that cow vigilantism is bound to adversely affect milk production in the country.

“This is because if farmers don’t have buyers to whom they can sell cows which have stopped yielding milk, they will be saddled with providing for animals no longer useful to them,” said Badri Prasad, general secretary, Rajasthan Kisan Union. Since farmers struggle to feed their own families, they cannot be expected to provide fodder to animals no longer useful to them.

“Another few years of cow vigilantism and milk production will be badly hit,” Prasad predicted. He said the other inimical consequence of cow vigilantism is that it will reduce the participation of women in economic activities. It is the women who feed and take care of the one or two cows that small farmers keep to supplement their income from agriculture.

(Photo credit: Reuters).
(Photo credit: Reuters).

Why then are farmers not raising their voices against cow vigilantism? Hasn’t their silence enabled Hindutva forces in the country to spin the cow into a Hindu-Muslim issue?

Prasad says they are silent because of sociological changes in villages. “The younger generation wants to escape the non-profitable agriculture sector and migrate to cities,” he said. “The older generation is biding its time – they are reconciled to the inevitable.”

Inevitable? Prasad answers, “The land has been subdivided to the point of agriculture providing diminishing returns. Cow vigilantism will further hit earnings. People will start to sell their land and corporates will enter farming. Today’s farmers will become their employees.”

This might sound like a conspiracy theory floated by those who find it difficult to believe that people could kill human beings in the name of the holy cow, and consequently search for a hidden agenda. But given that gau rakshaks have not dithered from targeting the Hindu farmer who has over the centuries nurtured and worshipped the cow, it does seem a bit surprising why a Hindutva dispensation, menacing in its rhetoric and muscular in its responses, has not curbed their activities.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

India’s urban water crisis calls for an integrated approach

We need solutions that address different aspects of the water eco-system and involve the collective participation of citizens and other stake-holders.

According to a UN report, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas where water is physically scarce and another 1.6 billion people, or nearly one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage. They lack basic access to water. The criticality of the water situation across the world has in fact given rise to speculations over water wars becoming a distinct possibility in the future. In India the problem is compounded, given the rising population and urbanization. The Asian Development Bank has forecast that by 2030, India will have a water deficit of 50%.

Water challenges in urban India

For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.

Any comprehensive solution to address the water problem in urban India needs to take into account the specific challenges around water management and distribution:

Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.

Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.

Water pollution and contamination: In India, almost 400,000 children die every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.

A holistic approach to tackling water challenges

Addressing these challenges and improving access to clean water for all needs a combination of short-term and medium-term solutions. It also means involving the community and various stakeholders in implementing the solutions. This is the crux of the recommendations put forth by BASF.

The proposed solutions, based on a study of water issues in cities such as Mumbai, take into account different aspects of water management and distribution. Backed by a close understanding of the cost implications, they can make a difference in tackling urban water challenges. These solutions include:

Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.

Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.

Also, alternative rain water harvesting methods such as harvesting rain water from concrete surfaces using porous concrete can be used to supplement roof-top rain water harvesting, to help replenish ground water.

Community initiatives to supplement regular water supply: Initiatives such as community water storage and decentralised treatment facilities, including elevated water towers or reservoirs and water ATMs, based on a realistic understanding of the costs involved, can help support the city’s water distribution. Water towers or elevated reservoirs with onsite filters can also help optimise the space available for water distribution in congested cities. Water ATMs, which are automated water dispensing units that can be accessed with a smart card or an app, can ensure metered supply of safe water.

Testing and purification: With water contamination being a big challenge, the adoption of affordable and reliable multi-household water filter systems which are electricity free and easy to use can help, to some extent, access to safe drinking water at a domestic level. Also, the use of household water testing kits and the installation of water quality sensors on pipes, that send out alerts on water contamination, can create awareness of water contamination and drive suitable preventive steps.

Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.

Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.

For BASF, the proposed solutions are an extension of their close engagement with developing water management and water treatment solutions. The products developed specially for waste and drinking water treatment, such as Zetag® ULTRA and Magnafloc® LT, focus on ensuring sustainability, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the water and sludge treatment process.

BASF is also associated with operations of Reliance Industries’ desalination plant at Jamnagar in Gujarat.The thermal plant is designed to deliver up to 170,000 cubic meters of processed water per day. The use of inge® ultrafiltration technologies allows a continuous delivery of pre-filtered water at a consistent high-quality level, while the dosage of the Sokalan® PM 15 I protects the desalination plant from scaling. This combination of BASF’s expertise minimises the energy footprint of the plant and secures water supply independent of the seasonal fluctuations. To know more about BASF’s range of sustainable solutions and innovative chemical products for the water industry, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.