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Economic compulsion forces Gujarat Dalits to begin picking up, dispose of dead cattle in Surendranagar district

Natubhai Parmar
By Our Representative
The effort to take a pledge from the Dalits never to scavenge dead cattle – the main contention of the 350-km-long padyatra in protest against the cow vigilantes’ July 11 violent attack on four Dalit youths in Una town of Saurashtra region in Gujarat – is beginning to face a major roadblock.
Even as thousands of Dalits have been swearing not to go ahead with their traditional caste-based job of disposing of dead cattle during the Ahmedabad to Una padyatra, which began on August 5, indications have emerged that the community people involved in the job have stopped the boycott at several places.
“Economic compulsion is forcing Dalit community leaders to begin the job of lifting dead cattle at several places in Surendranagar district”, said Natubhai Parmar, belonging to the Rohit (chamar) sub-caste of the Dalits, which is particularly involved in scavenging the dead cattle.
“The only major hurdle in the way is, the cow vigilantes at various spots even today harass us while we transport dead cattle for disposing them of. They do it for extort money, with cops always standing by them”, he said.
Pointing out that nearly 15 per cent of the Rohit families are involved in the job, while the rest have all diversified, Parmar, who is also a social worker with Navsarjan Trust, said, “Those running ‘bhams’ – which enter into agreement with panjrapols (cattle farms of aging cattle) to dispose of carcasses – are under intense pressure to lift the carcasses..”
Bhams are formed by a group of three or four families, generally from the Rohit sub-caste. Panjrapols float bids, making different bhams to compete among themselves to lift dead cattle. The highest bidder is offered the contract. Generally, each 'bham' gets at least half-a-dozen dead cows daily.

Visiting cards of dead cattle pickers
“The ‘bham’ which gains contract must deposit the amount, which is around Rs 6-7 lakh per annum”, Parmar said, adding, “After July 18, many of the ‘bhams’ stopped lifting cattle carcasses in protest against the Una incident. The panjrapols are refusing to compensate for the loss ‘bhams’ may suffer for refusing to lift the dead cattle.”
Already turning into a cottage industry, many of the ‘bhams’ have printed colourful visiting cards in Gujarat asking farmers and panjrapols to contact them for lifting dead cattle. Proclaiming to be “merchants in leather and bones” these visiting cards have all the contact details of the persons in the job.
Many of these ‘bhams’ get contracts as far away as Agra to supply raw cow leather. They supply bones to soap factories in different parts of India. With mobiles in hand, the job has become easier.
“In several places in Surendranagar district, the work of lifting dead cattle has begun, setting aside the pledge the Rohits had taken”, Parmar said, adding, “It is difficult to say how long with those in the job would be able to suffer the economic loss.”
After lifting the dead cattle, the family members do the job of separating carrion from bones and leather. “All of it done manually”, said Parmar. “To do it scientifically, the ‘bhams’ need infrastructure, including plots of land where the processing should take place, water supply and electricity.”
"In Kheda district's Kanjri village, a panjrapol has set up a huge pressure cooker type thing, equal to a room, in which the dead cattle is 'processed'. While the cooker is owned by people of dominant castes, Rohits do rest of the work of putting cows in this processing unit", he added.
“All that the Rohits need subsidized loan for setting up such processing units that would minimize manual operations, as also for buying up pickup vehicles”, Parmar said, adding, “The state government must intervene to make all this possible.”

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