Who will save the holy cow? In Punjab, the state’s newly notified Cow Welfare Commission and Hindu outfits have locked horns over the issue. As brazen attacks by vigilante groups on trucks carrying cows gain notoriety in the state, the BJP-led commission has warned them against “militant ways” of cow protection. Punjab’s dairy farmers, on the other hand, say vigilantism by both is bleeding the state’s once-flourishing business of breeding cows.
The commission says it has asked the police to act against those taking law into their own hands. “The problem is cow protection has been linked to religion, which is proving to be counterproductive. Some gali-mohalla (local) leaders have become self-proclaimed cow protection groups and are attacking trucks. They are making it a religious issue. Ban on cow slaughter or beef cannot be imposed without taking Muslims along. For that, we need to publicise the economic benefits of the cow. How everything that it gives is a boon for mankind. Stringent laws alone won’t help,” says commission chairman Kimti Bhagat, who belongs to the BJP.
Among the vigilante groups is the Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Suraksha Samiti, based in Patiala. Founded during the years of militancy in Punjab to “protect” Hindus, it too has now adopted cow protection as its main agenda. At a meeting on Monday, the Samiti decided to enforce the government notification which, it claims, prohibits the transportation of cows after sunset.
“Irrespective of whether the Gau Raksha Dal or some other religious outfit is attacking the trucks, they are doing what is right,” says Samiti North India president Ramesh Dutt.
Differing with Bhagat, he says, “Preventing cow smuggling and slaughter is a religious matter. We had unearthed the scandal of cows being slaughtered in a factory in Mansa. Our Samiti took up the matter with chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and the state’s DGP. Nearly 20 police Gypsies and 200 commandos were sanctioned to us to prevent cow smuggling. We have been raising the issue that a large number of cows are being transported from Punjab to Jammu and Kashmir, where they are slaughtered for beef. But the Cow Welfare Commission has not taken any action. It has political appointees who have failed to enforce the law,” says Dutt.
Is this cow welfare, ask dairy farmers
The Punjab Dairy Farmers’ Association accuses both the commission and religious groups of torturing cows in the name of welfare. “They have now forced the government to bring a notification that cows cannot be transported after sunset. The temperatures are still high during the day and cows are sensitive to heat which is why they are transported at night. Are they thinking about the cow’s welfare through such a law?” says its president, Daljit Singh.
He also points out how cows are suffering due to overcrowding. “Nearly 2.5 lakh to 3 lakh cows are transported out of Punjab every year for dairy purposes. In the last two months, we have got just two permits. They are creating a situation where cows will be roaming on streets and farms, destroying crops as the dairy farmers will not have enough space to keep them. A dairy farmer with 10 cows gets four calves every year. If he is not to sell four cows, where will he keep them? Some may even be killed,” he adds.
Kasai vs kisan
The cow welfare commission, on its part, claims it is opposing transport only to states which have not banned cow slaughter. “If a state has not banned it, it clearly means the cows are being sent there to be slaughtered. We are against the kasai (one who slaughters) not the kisan (dairy farmer),” Bhagat adds.
But in the game of one-upmanship, the Samiti has warned no cows will be allowed to be transported after sunset to any state. “Those doing so will be responsible for attracting action and so will the government,” Dutt adds.
Accusing the police of supporting vigilante groups, dairy farmers claim no cases are registered against those who vandalise trucks and beat up drivers and merchants. “The videos posted on social media by the Gau Raksha Dal and dairy farmers show the brutality. The attackers ask them to pay for getting the cows released and even take away the best ones. Many such incidents have taken place in Rajpura, Ludhiana, Bathinda and Moga in the past one year, mainly in areas where cattle markets are held. We are meeting the chief minister on Wednesday to end this harassment. If it continues, we will be forced to launch an agitation,” says Daljit Singh.