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Villagers' bovine march 'forces' Yogi to hold govt officials responsible for stray cattle

By Sandeep Pandey, Kushagra Kumar*
Ever since Narendra Modi’s ascension to power, a new phenomenon has taken shape in India – cow vigilantism. Number of mob lynching incidents took place some resulting in loss of life for the victims who happened to be mostly Muslims. Dalits too took the beating. On the other hand the aggressors hardly ever got punished. In fact, filing of First Information Report against victim or his relatives, in case of his death, became a common occurrence under the Bhartiya Janata Party rule.
As a result of this cow vigilantism all sale and purchase of cows came to a halt. When the farmer could not afford to feed an old cow, bullock or the male calf they were let go free. These stray cattle became a menace in the villages. They started grazing crops standing in the fields. Earlier, the villagers were similarly tormented by neelgai or antelope. But neelgai would run away upon seeing human beings.
The stray cattle which were earlier domesticated but now abandoned by villagers would not even run away on shooing. This has been a major cause of grief for farmers after Yogi Adityanath government came to power in Uttar Pradesh. How were they expected to pay the revenue for their crops which were eaten up by these cattle, a problem which was the creation of ruling party’s political agenda and government policy.
There is a practice of locking up the defaulters at Tehsil and confiscating their property in the case of inability to pay revenue. The villagers demanded a gaushala or cow shed in every village. However, the government was not able to meet this demand. It announced opening of some gaushalas. Pictures of Yogi Adityanath can be seen in government funded advertisements feeding jaggery to cows. The BJP runs a high profile campaign on cow protection. However, the ground reality is quite different.
About 70 km from Lucknow in Lalamau Mawai village of Hardoi district villagers who were fed up with the freely roaming bovine decided to do something about this problem. They petitioned the district authorities. Somebody from the veterinary office came to tag the cattle after the villagers had gathered 52 animals.
The government official told them to take the cattle to two different cow sheds. He made it clear that government did not have money for transportation of these animals. One cow shed in Dhikunni was only a km away but the other one located in Pawayan Bhagwantapur was located 15 km away.
Thirty five villagers set out from their village on December 27, 2020, with 28 cattle, towards the second cow shed. By the time they reached escorting these cattle it was late. The villagers at Pawayan Bhagwantapur were disturbed at seeing the cattle.
They said they were unable to cope with the cattle brought earlier to their cow shed as there was no arrangement to keep and feed the cattle here on behalf of the government as a result of which cattle were moving about freely adding to their woes.
The Lalamau Mawai villagers were asked to take the cattle back. When the villagers tried to contact the officials, the veterinary officer switched off his mobile phone and the Sub Divisional Magistrate pretended ignorance and asked the villagers to wait till next morning. With the hosts not willing, the guests had no choice but to return to their village with the cattle. On their way back they were encountered by a BJP office bearer Gyanendra Singh, a cow vigilante.
Villagers decided to take the stray cattle to the chief minister’s residence on the Republic day so that they may be taken care of well
Upon witnessing villagers moving with cows he assaulted them along with his colleagues. Even after he was informed that the entire exercise was being conducted with the consent of officials and he was made to talk to the police, the beating continued. The animals ran helter skelter. The battered men straight went to the police station in Atrauli. Among the beaten were five Dalits. The police asked them to come the next day as it was already night.
Sandeep Pandey, a participant in the bovine parade
The villagers from Lalamau Mawai went to the police station on December 28, and were able to see the Station House Officer only in the evening. A complaint was given. Even after seeing the SDM, holding a demonstration at district headquarter on the new year’s day and taking out a procession from the village to police station, the police did not register a FIR for about a month against the assaulters primarily because the main accused is an office bearer of the ruling party.
As stray cattle roam around because of non-functional cow sheds and do not get enough to eat they are emaciated. These weakened animals become a casualty in any accident on roads with vehicles. In cities, in search for food from garbage they often eat plastic bags which might have some left over food contents inside them. These plastic bags get accumulated inside their stomach becoming a cause of their demise.
Hence, the entire purpose of saving these cattle from slaughter is defeated. They anyway die of neglect and the so-called Gau Rakshaks, or cow protectors, do not come forward to take responsibility for these animals. They are merely looking out for opportunities to make hullabaloo if they suspect somebody of having consumed beef or taking cattle for slaughter.
Large scale corruption has been reported in the setting up and management of gaushalas, contracts for which have been awarded to people and organizations close to BJP or RSS.
Finally, the villagers decided to take the stray cattle to the chief minister’s residence on the Republic day so that they may be taken care of well. A general call was given for this. Two marches, one from Miyaganj in Unnao district on January 25 and another from Lalamau Mawai in Hardoi district on January 26, were organized.
The SDM and Circle Officer, respectively of Hasanganj and Sandila, prevented the bovine parade from proceeding after a certain distance. The cattle were sent to gaushala and FIR was registered against the BJP office bearer, including sections under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. The District Magistrate of Unnao has now issued a notice that Gram Pradhans and Village Development Officers will henceforth be held accountable for any stray cattle in their Gram Sabha.
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*Sandeep Pandey is Magsaysay award winning social activist and vice president of Socialist Party (India); Kushagra Kumar is a student in Lucknow

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