‘Gau Raksha has turned cattle into enemies of farmers’

Gonda, UP: One night as Rajpal Singh slept at his usual place in the house near the front door, he was awakened by a sudden bellowing of a bull. Rising from his cot, he found a bull standing close to the door, preparing to attack his cows which were tied nearby. Rajpal picked up a small stick and waved it in an attempt to hush away the animal. But instead of turning away, the bull charged at him. In a split second, the bull flung him five feet away and turned his cot upside down.

Hearing Rajpal’s cries, people from the neighbourhood woke up and came to his rescue. The bull was driven away but Rajpal suffered severe wounds, including a fractured hip bone, and has been bed-ridden for over a month now. Being an old man, chances of recovery are meek for him. He has already spent Rs 40,000 on medical treatment which is quite a hefty amount for a man of his means.

The incident took place at Baisan Poorva village of Gonda district in Uttar Pradesh. It has become a subject of speculation in the neighbourhood. But it is not a singular incident. During the past few months, around 250-300 animals have been let free in the neighbouring villages. The stray animals destroy the crop of nearly all the fields besides attacking humans.

BJP’s cow protection drive harming villagers

Ever since the UP government imposed a ban on illegal slaughterhouses and the Centre passed a bill regulating cow trade, the sale and purchase of cattle has completely stopped in the region. The traditional cattle fair is no longer being held. In the absence of a market, farmers are forced to free the animals which are of no use to them.

Shivendra Pratap had sown urad in four bighas of land but half the crop has been destroyed by stray cattle. “Dozens of people in the village have let their cattle free. Almost everyone’s fields in the village have been completely or nearly destroyed. No one knows how to deal with it,” Pratap said.

“The animals have wreaked havoc in the area, especially the bull that charged at me – no one had the courage to tackle it,” Rajpal recalled. “It nearly killed me. It was a miracle I didn’t die. For a month and a half, the plaster remained and I couldn’t leave the bed. Life has become hell.”

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Another villager, Shivsevak Singh, who works as an assistant in the local primary school, said, “So far, I have lost 14 bighas of crop. No field has been spared in the northern Siwan village. Those who have calves or cows that don’t give milk any more or other such useless animals, they set them free and don’t pay heed even when pressurised to restrain their animals.”

Besides running a riot in the fields, the feral animals are also interrupting the daily life. “When I reach the school in the morning, a herd of at least 50 animals packs the verandah. The students have to first gather and clean the dung before the classes can begin,” Shivsevak said.

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Crops being destroyed by stray cattle

Savitri, who cooks meals at the school, said that she had sown corn on one-and-a-half bigha leased land. Despite staying awake the whole night to keep a vigil, the crop was eaten away by the cattle thrice in the same season. Many of her relatives have suffered similar losses. Even setting up boundaries of bamboo and sticks is of little help.

In the neighbouring Gada Purwa village of Paraspur block, Ram Bihari Pathak was attacked by a feral bull. Leaving his oxen in the field, he rushed home and returned with a spear. The bull was still in the field but his oxen had broken free and fled. Pathak stabbed the bull in the neck with the spear but the bull kept advancing towards him. Due to the force from both sides the spear broke in half and Pathak kept hitting the bull and dodging it. By then, some people had gathered around them and the bull was finally driven away. “I am only alive by god’s grace,” he said.

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He demanded to know why a law banning the sale and purchase of cattle was passed. Who would keep the animals that are no longer of any use? Earlier they were slaughtered and the fields were spared, he said, but now the practice of gau raksha has only left the crops vulnerable to stray cattle.

The region is abuzz with discussions on the menace of stray cattle wreaking havoc upon the crops. The feral bull that has attacked various people is not like the other bulls that squat on the road and chew on cud. It doesn’t leave the passersby in peace and chases everyone that comes near it.

Despite the menace, people are afraid of being charged with cow slaughter if they attempt to kill it. According to a centuries-old tradition, anybody found slaughtering a cow in the region is sentenced to spend a month in a solitary hut outside the village, cook his own food and cut all ties with society. After a month, he must listen to ‘Bhagwat Katha’, perform Godaan and hold a feast in order to be accepted back.

‘What good is gau raksha if it brings destruction to farmers?’

Rambihari is a Hindu preacher and goes around singing bhajans and hymns on a harmonium. He is a devout Hindu but the government’s legislation has irked him. He says, “Gau rakshak has turned cattle into enemies of farmers. Does it even protect the cattle? It’s nothing but a farce and causes devastation of farmers. All fields in the village have been destroyed.”

“Earlier, waking up in the morning meant doing our own chores. But now we have to first grab a spear and head to the field. The watch continues till eight and even then one missed glance means an entire herd of stray cattle will pillage the crop,” he said.

Until now, the menace of stray cattle was confined to the cities. How did the problem surface in villages? According to Rambihari, “Farmers use tractors now, so they don’t need bulls. There are only a couple of bulls in the village. People used to sell useless animals but ever since the government closed down slaughterhouses, there is no one to buy them. The cattle market is no longer functional. Why would any one keep those animals?”

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Cursing the government’s cow protection movement, he said, “Whoever wants to eat it, let them eat. If we don’t eat it, nobody forces us to. At least there were no stray animals and the fields were safe then. What good is gau raksha if it brings destruction to the farmers?”

Retired postman of the village, Rasbihari Panday, has a similar tale to tell. “The stray cattle has destroyed everything,” he said. “For three hours I have been strolling through the fields. It gets tiring now. I had sown maize. The crop should have been three to four feet tall by now. But the animals have grazed it all down.”

The closing down of slaughterhouses has had a dreadful impact here. “The government exports the meat any way. If the same can feed a few, what’s the harm in it?” Panday said.

Amit Pathak, a Gada Purwa resident, said, “When locals went to complain about it to the district magistrate, he told us that we were farmers and the animals were our property. He suggested that each of us take in one animal and expressed his inability to offer any other solution. We even demanded bigger grazing fields and caretakers but our demands were not met.”

“I had to set up razor wire fencing around the sugarcane crop sown in the field. Everyone is doing it but it costs a lot. The animals have become a problem,” Pathak said.

Taking a jibe at the administration, he added, “Yogi [Adityanath] is a great animal lover. When we protested, he started expressing more love by feeding stray animals. But one can only feed a couple, not thousands of them. Ragarganj market is seven kilometres away and on way to it you will come across more than 500 animals on the road itself. In Khamroni, there are 400 stray animals strolling across the road. How can you expect fields to be safe in their presence? And who is going to pay for our losses?”

In the neighbouring village of Chitauni, an ageing Shivmohan Singh has leased his land. He had sown three bighas of rice but it was all devastated. “Guarding the crop is difficult when the animals are so many. Many of them have turned ferocious and it is even more difficult to tackle them. I hadn’t sown much but all was lost,” he said.

There used to be a shelter for unclaimed animals in the area and people used to bring stray cattle and tie them here. But it was closed down a few years ago.

Janki Sharan Dwivedi, Gonda-based senior journalist, said, “The most prominent cause of the problem is that bulls and calves have become useless in agriculture. Earlier, every household owned a pair and they were used in tilling of fields, rotation of crops or drawing bullock carts. They are not required any more. And so the markets have also closed down.”

Panday has a similar explanation. According to him, tractors have replaced cattle and no one wants calves any more. Even cows are less in demand.

The biggest problem, according to Amit, are the Jersey cows and their hybrid calves. As they get old, they become useless because they can neither be used in tillage nor for any other agricultural task.

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Some people have installed fences around the fields, but the animals get in nevertheless. Sometimes they get injured from the razor wires. “One day the villagers trapped a ferocious bull in razor wire,” Rajpal said. “It was severely wounded. If there is a maggot infestation, it will die.”

Clearly, people want these animals dead but no one is willing to do the killing. So instead they put up razor wire fencing to wound the animals and hope they die of those injuries. “As per the Hindu custom, no one wants to kill a cow. But when they become a menace, what else can be done?” Dwivedi asked.

Radhe Shyam Tiwari, a Salpur village resident, said, “The stray cattle have disturbed the whole region. Large herds descend on the fields out of nowhere and wipe the whole crop. I had set up fencing on two sides, but they entered from the third side and destroyed all of the maize crop and half of rice. We don’t know what to do.”

“Ever since razor wire fencing was installed, several animals have been killed,” one villager said. “This is the only way to get rid of the menace. Some of us plan to jointly set up fencing around a larger area covering several fields.”

The problem has compounded because of the ban on cow slaughter. “So far, people were only releasing calves, but with the ban in place, they are letting the cows go too. They keep them as long as they give milk,” Dwivedi said.

“Farmers are suffering huge losses because of it. They can neither kill the animals, nor send them off to Kanji houses, or gaushalas. If it continues for another couple of years, the problem will go beyond control.”

The villagers have not found a feasible solution yet. According Dwivedi, “The situation has become worse. Only the government can make a policy now to rid the farmers of these animals. No one is ready to buy them as of today. In the current regime, the ruling party workers are so fierce that if someone buys the cattle and transports it, they beat him up mercilessly. Who would dare to buy the useless cattle in such a scenario? If the administration does not wake up, the problem is only going to escalate.”

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