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Rajasthan's banjaras join protest against cow vigilantes in Jaipur, as cattle trade, dairies face economic ruin

At the dharna site
By Our Representative
In a development which may prove costly to the BJP-ruled Rajasthan government, the state’s gypsies or banjaras – categorized as other backward castes (OBCs) – have joined hands in the protests in front of the state assembly in Jaipur against cow vigilantism, which began on April 24.
Triggered by the gruesome lynching and murder of Pehlu Khan, a Haryana farmer off Alwar on April 1, cow vigilantism has adversely begun to tell on the livelihood of the Banjaras, also known as Goaars or Gaurus. According to a rough estimate, there are around 45 lakh banjaras in the state.
Addressing the protest dharna, which continued on April 25, Banjara Yuva Sangathan leader Paras Banjara, who came to the dharna site accompanied by a large group of Banjaras from Rajsamand district of Rajasthan, said, “Our livelihood depends on selling cattle, especially bulls, whom we raise.”
Pointing out that this option is in danger, Paras Banjara alleged that the cow vigilantes are involved in an extortion racket. “They coerce us into giving them ransom if we wish to continue selling cattle”, he said, adding, “The government has to ensure that this stops and we are provided with protection, lest we will have to begin non-cooperation movement.”
Those who participated in the dharna included the family members of Pehlu Khan, civil rights activists Kavita Shrivastava, Nikhil Dey, Jignesh Mevani, trade union and Left political party representatives and villagers involved in trading into cow.
Indeed, reports say, even more than three weeks after the lynching took place, cattle traders of different are seething with resentment against cow vigilantes and police, says a report. Most of them are victims of harassment, extortion and even assault by cow vigilantes, and Pehlu Khan’s death has only reinforced their anger.
At one such cattle fair, Chawand Kamand in Rajasthan, where more than 10,000 people come to the market to buy or sell cattle, yet last week not more than 1000-1500 people turned up. And those who reached the fair, including those belonging to the majority community, were feeling threatened.
One of them, Narendra Bhator, a trader from Madhya Pradesh’s Ujjain , who was attacked but saved by the police, said that the so-called cow protectors hit someone the moment they see transportation of cows. “They accuse us of transporting cows for slaughter. I am a Hindu, why would I take cows to a slaughterhouse?,” he wondered.
Another farmer, Govind Singh (50) from Bassi, who was at the market to sell cattle, said: “Last week too I came here to sell a cow and a calf, but I had to take them back as there were no buyers. The number of buyers has decreased after the UP government banned illegal slaughterhouses, and this week, following the attack on the dairy farmer there were very few buyers.”
On an average, the cattle market generates business worth Rs 2-2.50 crore every week, but now it has come down by more than 50%.Nemichand Choudhary from Sikar showed one of the cows and said, “Look at this beauty. It is priced at Rs 1 lakh. It gives 20 litres of milk every day. Why would I sell it to a slaughterhouse?”
Meanwhile, in an extensive account of the village to which Pehlu Khan belongs, Jaisinghpur, a former IAS bureaucrat who is currently a renowned activist, Harsh Mander, said, the village is part of the Mewat region, which is home of the Meo Muslim, who constitute 80% of this arid and water-scarce, impoverished district.
The bureaucrat-turned-activist found that every house in the village a cow or two, or a buffalo, but the children rarely drink milk. They must sell every drop to repay our loans and bring home food. However, following Pehlu Khan’s murder, they were terrified about their future. Anyone could come into their house and claim that they were raising the cows for slaughter.
The options before the villagers were few. The land is dry and infertile, and the rains fickle. Education levels are low. Thousands of young men are drivers but getting a driving licence for heavy vehicles from the notoriously corrupt district transport office is difficult.
Young men over the years got licences from far corners of the country, probably because they had to pay smaller bribes. But over the last two years, these licences have been suddenly derecognised by the district transport authorities.
Meanwhile, dairy farming has become a dangerous vocation. They do not know what the future holds, how they will feed their children. There were murmurs that they would take their cows to the district collector’s office and tie them to the gate, leaving it to the government to do what it will with them.

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