Farmers look helplessly as herds of nilgai, or Indian blue bull, hoof it to their crop fields in Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Budh Nagar district and leave a trail of destruction.
Notorious for destroying crops, the largest Asian antelope found in abundance in this district close to New Delhi is a vermin. The farmers can kill them to save their crops, with permission from forest authorities. But they won’t.
The hesitation springs from the antelope’s name — “gai” or cow, an animal that Hindus consider sacred and whose slaughter is banned in most states. Farmers believe killing a nilgai will invite the wrath of god.
The name is helping the majestic species thrive in a country of 1.3 billion people, where pressure on land is pushing wildlife to the brink. But that shield doesn’t always help, and may not for long.
Pictures of a shikari gunning down hundreds of blue bulls with a telescopic gun this summer in Bihar stirred a nation’s conscience. People condemned the culling as killer lust. At the same time, states are devising ways to keep the “vermin” population in check.
In Haryana, the government sought to change the animal’s name to “roze”, dropping the “gai”, so that people would have no qualms culling them. The state has been struggling to control its nilgai population.
The UP government uses “van rose” instead of nilgai in its official records.
But for the farmers, a nilgai remains a nilgai.
Van rose “failed to stop farmers from believing that it is not a holy animal”, said Satish Kumar Sharma, Uttar Pradesh’s chief wildlife warden.
“The animal does not belong to the bovine family. We can give permission to farmers to kill them if they destroy crops. But farmers won’t because of religious beliefs.”
Nilgai herds are a common sight in fields in the Greater Noida villages such as Bisada, Jarcha and Dankaur.
“Nilgais eat all crops except mustard. Every time I find this animal destroying my crop, I want to kill it right there. But, I control myself because I will face legal action and anger from fellow villagers, who will call me a murderer of a sacred animal,” said Layakram Nagar, a farmer.
The lynching of 55-year-old Mohammad Ikhlaq in Bisada last September over suspicion of cow slaughter has further made killing a Nilgai a sensitive issue.
People now fear killing a Nilgai will provoke cow vigilante groups too.
“Why should we kill an animal for a petty problem like crop damage? We will take action against anyone found harming this innocent animal,” warned Bhupendra Singh Tomar of Hindu Raksha Dal.
Ajaypal Sharma of Bharatiya Kisan Union, a farmers’ association, agree.
Afraid and at the wit’s end, villagers now turn to the forest department for help.
“Farmers want forest officials to kill the animal. They don’t want to face god’s wrath,” said HV Girish, the district’s divisional forest officer.
Nilgai is a schedule iii protected animal under the wildlife protection act of 1972.