The Love For Gau Mata Could Be Haryana’s Undoing

How the bull could be the saviour of the Haryana government

WrittenBy:Ishan Kukreti
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Roughly 30 kilometres outside Rohtak city, on the NH709 towards Kurukshetra, a seemingly innocuous sight greets a traveller -—a threadbare enclosure with hundreds of variedly coloured cows on the side of the highway.

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The signboard at the entrance reads: Nandigram Seva Sanstha

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The sanstha specialises in protecting bulls. Image Credit: Ishan Kukreti

For most of the country -reading, writing and unfortunately witnessing cow vigilantism -it’s the female of the bovine family, lovingly called, gau mata (cow mother), that is sacred to cow protection groups (gau rakshak).

But Haryana takes this cow-love to a new gender neutral height. The folks at Nandigram Seva Sanstha are devoting their labour -—and strength -—to protect the bull.

Kheton me bailon ka kaam nahi rah gaya hai toh log unhe sadak par chhod dete hain. Kahan jaenge ye?” (Bulls aren’t used in the fields anymore and therefore people abandon them. Where will they go?), Manu Panchal, head of the organization and a gau rakshak told Newslaundry. Tractors have made the bulls obsolete in the agriculture industry.   

Come to think of it, Panchal has a point. 

Cow: A Malthusian problem

“There are 9 lakh cows (male and female) in Haryana and the insemination rate of 40 per cent per year maintained by the government. That’s an addition of 3.5 lakh cows every year,” the retired Deputy Director of Animal Husbandry department, KP Singh told Newslaundry. According to him, 96 per cent of the strays in Haryana are bulls of which approximately 3,000 are in Rohtak district itself.  

Since the Haryana government passed the Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Act, (Cow protection and preservation) in March 2015, transporting cattle outside the state has become very difficult. Under the act, cattle smuggling can be punished with 10 years in prison or a fine up to a lakh. And on top of it is vigilantism. Upshot? Increase in the stray cattle population in Haryana, and the problems arising from it.

“We will have sit up in all night vigils for out jiri (paddy) crop from next month otherwise the stray cattle will destroy the field at night. I lost harvest worth lakhs of rupees last year,” griped Mahendra Singh, a paddy farmer with fields in the outskirts of Kurukshetra. There are many farmers like him.

The strays create problems in urban areas too. In cities, they are a major cause of road accidents. Unsuspecting drivers crash into strays who, in the absence of sheds, occupy the streets at night.

“Most of these bulls are weird hybrids. Their colour makes it very difficult to see them at night,” Satvir Singh, another farmer, told Newslaundry.

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Desi bulls are white, while the hybrids are multicoloured. Image Credit: Ishan Kukreti

“Earlier they used to send the unwanted cattle off to other states, like Uttar Pradesh. It was covert, but it was done,” Pratap Singh Dhariwal of Rohtak Kisan Sabha told Newslaundry adding that now even touching stray cattle blocking roads can invite trouble.     

But gau rakshaks have a ready justification. “Cow slaughter may or may not be legal, but in my eyes it is wrong and I’ll stop it,” said Harish Tiyal another member of the sanstha. He was proudly recounting how he had set fire to a truck, legally carrying dead cows, to be skinned. As is the norm, the driver was assaulted too.   

Incidentally, a stray related road accident that killed one of his friends made him enter the community of gau raksha. The irony is that Panchal and many like him, wittingly or unwittingly, are the beginning as well as the end of the problem of stray cattle in Haryana.

The impracticality of cow economics

“The government is pushing policies to turn a drought cattle variety into a milch variety,” an Animal Husbandry and Dairy department of Haryana bureaucrat told Newslaundry on condition of anonymity.

Haryana’s economy is an agrarian one which is complimented by animal husbandry. And one animal is the backbone of this economy -—buffalo. The unsung cousin not only has a way higher milk yield than the cow, is disease resistant, and has a higher milk yielding period. Go to the market, you can sell it for more too. And most importantly, no gau rakshaks have anything to do with them.     

BuffaloCow
Yield (per year)2-2,500 kg1,200 -1,400 kg
Lactation period8 months4-6 months
Price in marketRs.1 lakh approxRs. 30,000 – Rs 40,000

“The government is diverting funds to cow preservation when the economic value of cow is nowhere close to that of the buffalo” KP Singh observed. Earlier monetary awards for high milk yielding buffalos are being transferred to cows. One of the schemes of the government bought male buffalo calf for a minimum of Rs. 10,000 has been discontinued.

AnimalMilk Award
Buffalo ( 2015-16)>16 kgRs. 10,000
> 19 kgRs. 15,000
> 25 kgRs. 25,000
Cow ( started in 2015-16)6-8 kgRs. 10,000
8-10 kgRs. 15,000
> 10 kgRs. 20,000
Buffalo (2016-17)> 18 kgRs. Rs. 10,000
> 22 kgRs. 15,000
> 25 kgRs. 30,000
Cow (2016-17)8-10 kgRs. 10,000
10-12 kgRs. 15,000
>12 kgRs. 20,000

Given the sanctity of the holy bovine, none of the government’s efforts are geared towards scientific improvement of the Hariana desi cow breed.

“In Israel, cow milk yield is as high as 60 litres per day. They have done that through selectively culling cows with low milk yields. You can’t do that here,” KP Singh said. And so the economic burden of preserving the cattle increases, as well as their stray population.   

A White Elephant

“The government has given us a budget of Rs. 2 crores last year,” chairman of Gau Seva Ayog, Bhani Ram Mangla said, and added, “but the Chief Minister has told us that if we need more money, it’ll be given.”

Moreover, the state has seen a spurt in organizations dealing in gau seva. There are 430 registered gau shalas in the state, out of which more than 40 have come up in the last year. Many are awaiting registration.

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A traditional gau shala. Image Credit: Ishan Kukreti

Nandigram Seva Sanstha is one of those waiting to get registered. But that hasn’t stopped its seven members from charging people whose cattle somehow end up in the sanstha’s enclosure. The enclosure has been created by the members without any legal permission. In any other case, it’d have drawn state’s ire for encroaching public property.

“They can get their cattle back, but on paying a fee. They have to pay Rs 500, Rs 1000 etc according to their wish,” Panchal said, conscientiously adding, “We give them a receipt for the same.” Needless to say the receipt has no value as the sanstha isn’t registered.  

Mangla maintains that the Gau Seva Ayog gives as much money to Gau shalas as needed by them. But when Newslaundry visited one in Pehrawar, near Rohtak, the owners were struggling to make ends meet.

“We have around 6,500 animals here. The government has promised Rs 50 for the upkeep, but we haven’t been paid for some time. Our dues amount to Rs 1 crore 35 lakh,” Sudesh Sharma, manager of Akhil Bharatiya Gau Shala told Newslaundry.

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Gau Shalas have a traditional role of taking care of old cattle. Image credit: Ishan Kukreti

The government of Haryana seems to be leaving no stones unturned to protect and preserve Gau vansh. However, the Haryana government’s good intentions are paving the way to people’s hell. Extralegal vigilantism is on the rise, land is being encroached upon and cattle have become holier than human life.  With schemes transferred to preserve cows, the agrarian economy is looking at lack of public investment right in the face.

“Even with these schemes, I haven’t come across a single farmer who has switched from buffalo to cow. It’s impractical,” the bureaucrat commented.

Meanwhile, the government continues to proudly nurture a white elephant in the name of tradition.

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