‘I ward them off with a cricket bat’: Indian farmers despair over marauding cows
Source: The Guardian
By Amrit Dhillon in Uttar Pradesh
Herds of cows abandoned by dairy farmers because of anti-slaughter laws are causing chaos in the Uttar Pradesh countryside
By day, Munidev Tyagi is a farmer, growing rice, maize, lentils and sorghum. By night, he turns watchman, guarding his fields in Sahibpur village in Uttar Pradesh against the stray cows that trample and maraud on his fields, eating his precious crops.
He is not a happy man.
“I don’t get more than a couple of hours sleep. The last few crops were badly damaged. It’s a huge problem. I ward them off with my son’s cricket bat but they keep coming back,” said Tyagi.
The stray cows, numbering hundreds, belong to dairy farmers in the area. Once they cease to give milk, farmers can’t afford to keep feeding them. Previously, they used to sell unproductive cows to the local abattoir for a small sum of money. But now, with the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh aggressively enforcing anti-cow slaughter laws, the situation is very different.
The BJP has closed down the small butcher’s shops (mainly Muslim-owned) that used to dot the countryside. In addition, it has mobilised its supporters: bands of right-wing Hindu “gau rakshaks” or cow vigilantes who patrol the countryside like private militias, ready to rain violence on anyone selling or buying a cow for slaughter.
Having stoked Hindu passions over the cow to come to power, the Narendra Modi government effectively legitimised cow vigilantes who have lynched Muslims and Dalits, who they believe are slaughtering cows.
Human Rights Watch reported that in the two years up to April 2017 at least 10 Muslims, including a 12-year-old boy, were killed during mob attacks related to the campaign against beef consumption.
Fear of these attacks has meant that in many parts of India, cows have become the farmer’s enemy. Sleep-deprived and frantic to protect their crops, farmers hold night-long vigils, spend money they can ill afford on fencing or putting barbed wire around their fields, and arm themselves with sticks and stones. In some cases, they have thrown acid on cows.
As a Hindu, Tyagi reveres the cow. But not so much that he is willing for them to ruin his livelihood.
“It’s madness. The dairy farmers in my village don’t let their cattle loose here because we know them. They let them loose in another village. The cows from other villages are let loose in my village. I can’t spend my life shooing away cows. I’ve got other things to do. But the BJP cares more about cows than farmers,” said Tyagi.
I can’t spend my life shooing away cows
Cow slaughter has been banned for years in about 20 of India’s 29 states out of respect for the sentiments of Hindus who venerate the cow. But in reality, officials were rarely bothered about what was happening on the ground in remote villages where Hindu farmers regularly sold their unproductive cows to the local Muslim butchers. This trade, albeit technically illegal, flourished.
In March 2017, the Uttar Pradesh government closed down hundreds of what it called “illegal” abattoirs, leaving farmers with nowhere to take their cows. Other BJP state governments have also shut down cattle fairs where farmers used to sell unproductive or ageing cows either for meat or leather.
“All farmers used to sell, under the radar, their old cows. Do you know much fodder costs? Do you know how many men it takes to lift a sick cow to clean the shed? After stopping giving milk, a cow can live for another 20 years. Do they feed their children or their cows? It’s absurd to expect a farmer to keep them just because your ideology says so,” said political commentator Chandra Bhan Prasad.