RSS and dozens of its so called socio-cultural outfits have become ever more active in recent months with the BJP coming to power under the leadership of Narendra Modi. In spite of Modi’s tall promises, and acute anger against the incumbent UPA-II, the BJP had got mere 31 percent of the vote share in the 2014 elections. This narrow and fragile political base is quickly eroding as discontent mounts among various sections of people, especially the peasantry, which is reeling under an unprecedented agrarian crisis brought on by the more aggressive pursuit of neo liberal policies. It is in this context that a desperate BJP has let loose its Hidutava outfits to rake up all kinds of divisive and emotive issues related to religion or caste, and cow is one among them.

The cow and its progeny still continue to be culturally sensitive in large regions of North Indian states regardless of the caste and even religious background of communities. BJP has been exploiting the sentiments attached to the cow in the past in order to polarise the people on communal lines by targeting the Muslim minority community and even the dalits from time to time.

            The recent cold blooded murder of Akhlaq in Bishada village of Dadri (UP) is a typical instance of a planned conspiracy by spreading false rumours about presence of beef in his house. Within a week cow and beef were made issues by BJP in the ongoing Bihar elections.

The Hindi speaking region often is often called cow belt because the mainstay of its economy, the farm sector, depended on bullocks as draught animal for ploughing and transportation and the cow was a source of dairy products, besides producing the bullocks. Thus, the cow was of prime importance for farming, i.e. the main livelihood of peasantry. Bovine rearing and breeding (both cattle and buffalo) had been and even today continue to be important occupation of rural as well as a section of urban masses. So cattle in general and cow as birth giver to bullocks continued to be accorded worshiped status as Gau Mata. Gau Mata ki Jai had been a popular and sacred slogan among rural children. The impact of Arya Samaj movement in these parts of the country in the context of cow worship may have been also a factor. But over the years the whole scenario has dramatically changed.

     With very fast mechanization of the farm sector especially in the wake of Green Revolution, tractors and other implements replaced the use of bullocks at a massive scale and these days use of bullocks as draught animal has become an uncommon sight in the countryside. The cow has been replaced by buffalo and bullocks by tractors. Male buffalos (bhainsa or jhota) has fast replaced bulls even for the transportation or ploughing purpose and the cart is a bullock cart or ‘bail gari’ only in name.

             Murra breed of Haryana buffalo is the most famous breed in terms of yield of milk. A Murra Bhainsa was recently offered a price of Rs. 6 Crore and yet it was not sold by a farmer in Karnal district. This is one example of buffalos’ priority over cow.

            During a period of four decades the population of domesticated cattle in Haryana has declined sharply from 40.9 per cent of the total bovines in 1966 to mere 14 per cent in 2007. On the other hand population of buffalos has increased from 50.7 per cent to 79.0 per cent in the same period. The reason is that buffaloes are more profitable because of their higher milk yield. Average milk yield per cow is 2.9 kg while that of a buffalo is 4.6 kg, with much more fat content.

            The indigenous (Desi) cows have been replaced by either the cross bred Sahiwal or the Jersey or the Holstein Friesian breeds. So, the left out Desi cows remain marginalised as domestic animals yet continue to breed with Desi bulls. Interestingly it is this cow which is most neglected and yet ‘worshiped’ too. These cows are camped in large number of gaushalas(cow shelters) which have become a flourishing business for some vested interests. People donate generously to gaushala committees and during recent decades even state governments too have given very liberal grants. Here, the managers are ready to accept stray cows only if a handsome amount of money is offered. If it is a milch cow it is retained but if dry, it is sure to be let loose again by the gaushala people, often during night hours.

        In spite of the marginalization of its utility, the population of these stray cows and bulls continues to grow, causing serious problems for common people. Several commuters lose their life or get seriously injured in road accidents caused by stray cattle squatting on roads. The bulls in rural areas not only damage crops but also violently harm the pregnant valuable buffalos resulting in abortions.

There are reports of clashes between residents of neighbouring villages over movement of stray cattle from one village to another as no one is the owner. Curiously, there is a conflict of interest on this point between farmers whose crops are threatened by the stray cattle on the one hand and the so called gaubhakts propagating their communal politics on the other.

With lakhs of neglected cattle there is bound to be higher mortality rate among the stray cattle for multiple reasons of disease, hunger, cold or accidents. Such dead or injured cows are often made a communal issue for targeting minority community or dalits. Cattle fairs have long ago been stopped. So any one transporting cattle becomes a target of communal outfits existing in various names and masquerading as gaubhakts who allege that these were being transported for slaughter. Even the police acts in active collusion with these elements among whom there are extortionist gangs too. The infamous Dulina episode is still fresh in the memory when five innocent dalit youth were lynched by a communally motivated mob after snatching them from police custody in 2002 near Jhajjar town of Haryana.

Since then there has been widespread communal build up by VHP, Bajrang Dal and several groups with varied names like Gauraksha Vahini, even using the name of Shahid Bhagat Singh in several regions, and especially neighbouring Mewat district of Haryana and Rajasthan. Half a dozen incidents of violent attacks on the vehicles transporting cows have been witnessed often fanned by wilful rumour mongering about cow slaughter. A convoy of about a dozen trucks hired by the government carrying cows from Chandigarh to a gaushala in Barsana (UP) almost a year ago was set fire near Farukh Nagar (Gurgaon) and cows were let off. All such incidents took place during the year prior to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Series of Gau-Raksha Sammelans have been organised. Concocted/morphed videos showing a person dressed like a Muslim slaughtering a cow went viral on mobiles. Hoardings showing a Muslim slaughtering a cow were put up by supporters of Baba Ramdev during such gatherings. Slogans such as “Katati hui gauen karen pukaar – Bandkaro ye attyachar” have been portrayed on hoardings. Administration of erstwhile Congress govt. took no steps despite complaints by CPI(M) in this regard.

Spreading of this communal venom was stepped up after BJP came to power at the centre. The fact is that there had never been any cow slaughter in North Indian states including Muslim dominated areas like Mewat. Actually the peasant communities always had emotional feelings for the cow, and obviously so, for livelihood reasons. The peasantry of this region had been under minimum influence of religiosity also as far as practising religious rituals was concerned. There is a popular saying in Mewat region which goes like “Jat ka Kya Hindu aur Meo ka kya Musalman”. Here Jat is synonymous with a peasant.

But the situation has changed in recent decades with systematic penetration by fundamentalist forces. As a result, festivals almost unknown till now were introduced and construction of places of worship in a big way took place by mobilising local resources.  Such community efforts in the past had been aimed generally towards education, drinking water, ponds, flood control, etc.

            There had been a system in place since long, of dead cattle to be disposed of by licensed contractors who used to get the skin removed for use in the leather industry and carry the carcases to the venues earmarked specially for this purpose. All gaushalas, municipal committees and Panchayats had been following this system quite smoothly. Lot of poor people were dependent on this occupation for their livelihood. This has been disbanded now rendering lot of people jobless and no one to dispose of the corpses of cattle dying a natural death, or due to illness or hunger.

So an alternative policy is needed involving comprehensive steps to overcome the menace of stray cattle and demystify the false notions created around cows. Campaigns need to be undertaken to make the people aware of the facts related to this problem so that they are not misled by communal force.

Reasons behind the bizarre policy of emphasis on rearing of Desi cows instead of improved breed of cattle and providing subsidies for establishing such dairies are not difficult to seek.  The truth is that BJP governments or the communal fanatics have hardly any concern or real sympathy for the pitiable plight of lakhs of stray cattle. False propaganda of cow slaughter or beef eating can be made only when there are abundance of cattle wondering around. Can we find a stray buffalo calf, a goat, a sheep or even poultry anywhere on the streets, unclaimed by an owner?

There is tremendous scope of dairy development through improvement of breed of cattle and buffaloes in this region. Marginal farmers and landless households can improve their lot with animal husbandry. This would require effective population control of stray cattle. But this will surely deprive the Hindutava forces of a potent source of communal consolidation.

            All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has been agitating for a curb on the stray cattle through campaigns and struggles. Farmers have been demanding that these cattle can be controlled by improving their breed, restoring the cattle fare, curbing the communal elements etc. But with the BJP coming to power in at the Centre and Haryana cow has been made an issue to be politically exploited more aggressively. Haryana assembly has enacted a legislation Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Samvardhan Act on March 16, 2015 which among other measures of so called protection also stipulates imprisonment on causing harm or slaughtering a caw. It also provides for NGOs who could be given village common lands for setting up Gaushalas apart from getting liberal grants by the government. Following this vested interests with RSS connections and political patronage have become active for grabbing the village common lands in the name of cow. Let it be recalled that village common lands have a statutory share of scheduled caste households for cultivation or allotment as house sites for the landless.

            A few months ago an official seminar was held on the plight of Gau Vansha at Rohtak Maharishi Dayanand University where Minister of Agriculture O.P.Dhankhar was prominently present and lot of so called religious Babas and swamis adorned the dais. One of the major policy announcement made by the Minister was that 50 per cent subsidy to be granted to those setting up a dairy of Desi Cows.  How ridiculous and senseless it is . But there is hardly any logic when it is a matter of exploiting the sentiments of people. The cross- bred may well give much more milk than the Desi cow but it does not qualify to be given recognition as Gau-Mata like the stray lot of Desi or indigenous ones.

Successful struggle of enraged peasants against the anti people land acquisition act and  the unprecedented participation of workers and employees  in the all India 2nd Sept. Strike called by trade unions are instances of fast disillusionment of the common people with the BJP and its Modi led government. In this situation this party would be taking recourse to divide the people on communal, caste or other parochial planks in order to desperately curb the resistance of people reeling under price rise, unemployment and systematic dismantling of whatever little social security schemes available so far. BJP and its disparate outfits would be adopting tactics to polarise the people on communal lines besides stifling democracy as been warned by the Left parties from time and as the  BJP/RSS are well known for. The hapless cow has become their ultimate refuge and holding its tail with a firm grip they seek to swim the political tide.