The Gujarat government cares more for gau rakshaks (cow protectors) than gau suraksha (cow welfare), say activists in the state that is currently in the spotlight for the brutal thrashing of four Dalit youth by suspected cow vigilantes for skinning a dead cow.
Gau rakshaks are awarded Rs 500 for every cow they rescue under a government scheme. The rescued cattle and also those abandoned by their owners are sent to panjrapole (cow shelters) run by local trusts. The government pays a one-time grant of Rs 2,500 for every cow — enough to buy it fodder for 10 to 15 days — and, thereafter, the animal is at the mercy of those running the shelters.
Gujarat has 220 talukas (subdivisions made up of several villages) and each taluka has two cow shelters on average. Some 660,000 cows are estimated to be housed in these shelters across the state and struggling to survive without government support, says Bharat Sinh Jhala, president of Kissan Adhikar Manch, a farmers’ group. The trusts tasked with running the shelters rely mostly on contributions from locals and NGOs.
Activists say a large number of cattle is more or less left to die at these shelters, at a time when cow vigilantes are virtually running amok with the goal of saving the animal — considered sacred in the Hindu religion.
“The government is more interested in helping cow protectors than cows. It’s because cow protectors give the government political mileage,” alleges Dilip Singh Parmar, convenor of a trust that runs one such shelter in Muli taluk of Surendranagar district.
“It’s a charade the government runs,” says activist Pratik Sinha. “They will not let Dalits skin dead cattle because it hurts their sentiments. They will not let Muslims trade the animals because the cow is their mother. But they have no problem when these animals die of starvation in the panjrapole.”
According to the gauseva board, the state spent Rs 2.17 lakh in 2012 paying gau rakshaks Rs 200 for every cow they rescued. In 2013-14, the reward was raised to Rs 500 and the cow protectors received Rs 6.47 lakh for their “heroism”.
In contrast, the shelters and their inhabitants are starved of money. And with successive years of drought leading to cattle being abandoned in large numbers, space at the shelters is also being squeezed.
“In 2012, we had around 600-700 cattle. Now, we have 1,600. The 2012 drought made many farmers abandon their cattle,” says Parmar. He has not received any state grant for maintaining the abandoned cattle.
Gujarat’s Gir or Kankrej breed of cows, with their majestic horns, are known for their high milk yield and credited with the state’s white revolution. “A Gir cow gives a minimum of 10 litres of milk a day. They are among the best in the country,” says Dr Ghulam Nabi Mansoori, a veterinarian and one of the only Muslim members of the state’s gauseva board.
“The most prized cattle in the state are being abandoned by the lakhs. There is a massive crisis in the state following the drought that started in 2012. But the BJP-led state government is doing nothing to help the cattle. It is only interested in using them for politics,” says Jhala.