After making old cows unviable to maintain, Madhya Pradesh wants to force farmers to pay for them

With reports of abandoned cows destroying crops, the state’s cow protection panel has proposed penalties on owners who set them free.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is scrambling to contain the fallout of its efforts to prevent the slaughter of cows, which have distorted rural economies in unforeseen ways. To deal with one unexpected consequence, a Madhya Pradesh government panel has now recommended penalties for farmers who abandon their cattle.

This highlights the incongruity of the effort to impose a cultural sentiment (the protection of cows) with the basic economic fact that someone has to pay for the upkeep of these animals.

Cow trade

Over the years, various state governments, many led by the Congress, have enacted laws banning the slaughter of cows as a way of respecting religious sentiments in a country where many Hindus hold the animal to be sacred.

Since 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ascent to power at the Centre as well as its near-complete control of governments in what is known as the Cow Belt has added greater urgency to these rules. Some states have passed stricter laws and expanded the ban beyond cows to include other kinds of cattle.

Alongside these initiatives of the government, gau rakshaks, or cow protection groups, appear to have been given tacit support by the BJP apparatus across the country, leading to a series of lynchings of people accused of storing beef or transporting any sort of cattle. Although the prime minister eventually spoke up against the violence, state support to gau rakshaks has continued. In fact, the Centre has brought in new laws that impose many more restrictions on the sale of cattle, conditions that made it unfeasible for most owners to dispose of their animals.

The net effect of all this has been to turn the cow from an asset into a liability after a point. Where once farmers would have sold off cows after they stopped giving milk, the sale for slaughter is now mostly illegal and traders are afraid of attempting to acquire the animals. With no avenue to sell their cattle, farmers are choosing to abandon them rather than spend money on feeding the animals with no hope of any monetary return. This in turn has led to masses of abandoned cows that often wander into other farms, destroying crops and prompting an entirely new kind of man-animal conflict.

Man-cow conflict

In Bundelkhand, abandoned cows have been blamed for traffic snarls and adding to the water scarcity. In Lakhimpur Kheri, also in Uttar Pradesh, farmers locked 250 cows into a school to prevent them from wandering into fields, forcing the students to go home. Farmers are shooing away the animals with lathis and red chilli sprays. In Agra, abandoned cows were attacked with acid. Experts have said the large-scale abandoning of cows “is a sure threat not only to the dairy economy but more detrimentally to forestry, grasslands and also our urban facilities”.

Governments are now looking for ways to prevent stray cattle from causing more havoc. Madhya Pradesh is attempting to give every cow a unique tag, allowing the authorities to track the owner. The Centre has suggested this projectbe expanded nationally. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Ahir proposed 1,000 hectares of forest landed be allotted for cow sanctuaries in every district of every state where slaughter is banned. Others have recommended a cess on dairies like Amul and Mother Dairy, which will go towards the establishing of shelthers for unwanted cows. Lalu Prasad Yadav, on his part, suggested tying old cows outside the homes of Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leaders.

Abandoned farmers

The Madhya Pradesh government panel for cow protection now has a new suggestion. “We want to introduce a penalty for owners who abandon their cows,” Swami Akhileshwaranand, chairman of the executive council of the Madhya Pradesh Cow Protection Board, told the Indian Express. “The penalty will be slapped even if a cow is killed in road accidents because it’s proof that the owner has abandoned it.

If the proposal goes through, farmers will not only have been prevented from making an economically vital decision to sell fallow cows, they will also be forced to bear the expense of religious sentiments imposed by the government by having to spend money on rearing unproductive animals.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.