On a recent road trip to Rajasthan, I saw hundreds of cattle roaming the streets. That, I am told, is a common sight in the state!
On more than one occasion, we nearly missed hitting the cattle squatting bang in the middle of the highway (National Highway as well as State Highway). One night, we almost ran into a cow crossing the road in the middle of the night. We also saw many dead bodies of cattle lying by the side of the street, obviously having been run into by a vehicle. We were petrified of running into one of them since many Kanwars were on their way back from their pilgrimage, and there was some sort of religious ceremony going on in a “Pandal” on the roadside at one point, and a lot of people in saffron robes seemed to be going towards it. Add to this, the many cases and stories of mob lynching in the state!
We were on our way to Pokhran the next day and there were Gaushalas on either side of the road. There were many signboards talking about them. We even saw a few cow ambulances, although there were none from a hospital for us lesser humans!
When I enquired about the reason for these cattle to be on the streets, the hotel staff ventured forward with the only explanation possible. The old cows had been deserted by their owners, once they were of no use to them, and a lot of the male calves had been abandoned due to the difficulties faced in selling them.
As per records, the BJP government in Rajasthan had passed a cow slaughter law in 1995. In 2015, the state government made the rules against the transport of cattle stricter. In May 2017, the Centre drafted a new rule that banned the sale of cattle and buffaloes for slaughter. In this notification, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change made it illegal for farmers and animal traders to sell cattle, which include cows, bulls, buffaloes and even camel, for slaughter in “animal markets” (market for livestock). As per the new Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, “No person shall bring a cattle to an animal market unless upon arrival he has furnished a written declaration signed by the owner of the cattle or his duly authorised agent… stating that the cattle has not been brought to market for sale for slaughter.” While the rules do not make it illegal to sell cattle outside of the animal markets for slaughter, it has become practically impossible to do so, as per the locals.
This move had far-reaching consequences impacting several industries — meat, leather, food, pharmaceuticals and even transport — and affecting farmers’ financial security. Curbs on their sale have forced farmers to abandon many of their cattle and these feral cattle are a growing menace in the state. They are also a threat to the crops, forcing many farmers to put ill-afforded barbed wire fences around their crops to save them from the feral cattle.
To tackle the menace, the government has provided funds to fence a portion of designated land in villages where the abandoned cattle can be kept, but these Gaushalas are very few and the cattle, too many!
Many of the abandoned cows end up foraging in rubbish heaps, consume plastic and die. Others are hit by speeding vehicles on the highways, and end up dead on the roadside.
Many of the farmers’ depend on income from the sale of milk and cattle. The focus on cow protection has not only hit the rural economy with farmers finding it difficult to sell the cattle but it has also led to an increase in the number of abandoned cattle. Farmers blame Gau-Rakshaks, who often assault the traders transporting cows and buffaloes. Cattle traders and dairy farmers from outside Rajasthan have stopped coming to buy calf and other cattle for the fear of Gau-Rakshaks. Many (Hindu & Muslim) farmers, dairy owners and traders are angry and upset with thugs going around as cow protectors. There have been incidents in which farmers in possession of the relevant documents have also been stopped, and harassed. In some cases, they let go after demanding money, and in others, they proceed to the authorities. In such cases, till the time that the case goes on, the cows are sent to a Gaushala, where most of them perish due to a lack of clean water and food.
Instead of focussing on treating the cows well, because of their religious significance, these Gaushalas don’t look after the cows there. The buyers have to provide food and water and milk to them which adds to their cost. Some just decide to abandon them.
The Gau-Rakshaks do not spare even Hindu farmers and traders ferrying cows purchased legitimately from cattle markets.
Farmers are scared and no longer willing to risk the wrath of Gau-Rakshaks. Many of them have switched to breeding goats now. Farmers used to sell those cows which stopped giving milk and the proceeds were used to partially finance a new cow, but with Gau-Rakshaks around, that is no longer possible. Since farmers no longer have buyers to whom they can sell the cows which have stopped yielding milk, they are saddled with providing for these animals that are no longer useful to them, eventually leading to their abandonment in most cases. Farmers no longer want to take the risk of rearing cows.
If we are not careful, this is going to adversely affect the milk production in the country soon. This cow vigilantism has many worried and they aren’t just Muslims!
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NEWSD and NEWSD does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.