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Gujarat Dalit rights leader identifies dumped plastic extracted from dead cows' womb

Natubhai Parmar showing plastic extracted from a dead cow's womb
By Rajiv Shah  
After a long, long time, Natubhai Parmar, a grassroots Dalit rights activist based in Surendranagar in Gujarat, rang me up. I was pleasantly surprised. I have known him for the last about eight years. Though we used to talk on phone, and met once in a while in Ahmedabad to do stories on Dalit issues, it was only after the famous Una flogging incident in 2016 that I found how deep his understanding is on Dalit issues. 
The Una incident – in which four Dalit boys were tied to chain attached with an SUV and were pushed towards the local police station on the main road, even as cow vigilantes flogged them mercilessly all the way – led to a huge turmoil among Gujarat Dalits. Dalit rights leader Jignesh Mevani, currently independent MLA, became famous following an Ahmedabad to Una march he organised to protest against the flogging.
As the cow vigilantes flogged the four Dalit boys on suspicion of cow slaughter, many Dalits, especially belonging to the Rohit sub-caste, stopped scavenging dead cattle, which was their hierarchical caste-based profession. Parmar also gained some prominence after he collected about a dozen cattle carcasses and dumped them all in front of the Surendranagar district collector’s office, asking officials to dispose them of as they liked.
It was a revealing talk with Parmar in 2016. He gave me insight into what exactly Rohits do with cattle carcass. He said, they ate carrion, both in towns and villages, and it was one their main sources of protein intake. This traditional scavenging job, he informed me, was no doubt on decline among Rohits, as many of them had shifted to other jobs – industrial workers, farm workers, masons, plumbers, drivers, and cleaners – but it was still popular in villages.   
Plastic lump from ashram's dead cow
He told me, to do the job, three or four families would get together to form a ‘bham’. The panjrapols (loosely, cattle farms), where most of the aging cattle are sent, would float tenders. The highest bidding ‘bham’ would pay the sum, which was around Rs 7 lakh for a year. With a pickup van at its disposal, the bham would take the dead cattle to a spot where the families separated skin from rest of the body. Every part of the body would be sold after manually cleaning it up – the cow meat, the cow fat, the bones, the skin. This was how they would earn.
A year later, Parmar organised a protest rally in Surendranagar town. I also went there along with senior human rights activist Gagan Sethi. The protest was against the manner in which the cow vigilantes would harass Rohits for cow slaughter, insisting, majority of cows died because they consumed plastic. Led by a tractor, on which plastics extracted from cows was displayed, the two kilometre-long rally ended with an appeal to the state government to stop blaming Dalits for cow slaughter and ban plastic.
Following the rally, Parmar founded a Goseva Ashram, named after Lord Buddha, where he started keeping frail cattle and treated them, even as his motto, seeking ban on plastics, which according to him was the main reason for their untimely death, continued. I have not been to this ashram, but he has been telling him, through WhatsApp messages about this, suggesting, his campaign to ban plastic continues. I did a few stories on his campaigns ever since.
The other day, after Parmar phoned me up, I looked at his two WhatsApp messages he had sent me. The first one said, one of the stray cattle he had give refuge to in his ashram, operating in Vadhwan town, next to Surendranagar town, died after the animal rights helpline number, 1962, failed to provide necessary help on time. Following the death of the cow on November 28, 2020, after skinning it, the message said, they extracted “11 iron nails, six staple pins, several bolts and other ghastly things, as also 53 kg of plastic and dead calf.”
The second WhatsApp message said, he along with an ashram colleague, Sundarbhai Parmar, while through the main road leading to Dhrangadhra from Surendranagar, were stunned to find a huge pile of plastic extracted from dead cows’ wombs. According to Parmar, while the Gujarat government has banned use of plastics below 50 micron thickness, such a dumping suggests the ban is not still now in force for all practical purposes, and stray cows continue to consume them.

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