Indian ruling party’s cow obsession angering farmers in key province

S. N. M. Abdi

Published: Updated:

The clampdown on beef consumption and slaughter-houses by Hindu nationalists in India’s largest province, Uttar Pradesh, has resulted in unprecedented invasion of agricultural fields by hordes of cows and bulls destroying standing crops.

Uttar Pradesh's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is also in power in New Delhi, is caught between sectarian rhetoric and its inevitable fall-out as it braces for a backlash from Hindus themselves, although UP is helmed by a rabid hardliner, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, known for his commitment to the cow and hate speech targeting Muslims.

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Traditionally, dairy farmers sold the cows to abattoirs once they stopped giving milk and used the returns to buy milk giving animals. As there are few buyers these days thanks to the BJP’s ban on cow slaughter, they are letting loose the unproductive cows on the streets instead of feeding them for the rest of their lives as Adityanath wants them to.

Stray cattle menace

The explosion in the number of stray cattle in UP has become a menace as the animals overrun agricultural fields and ruin crops inflicting big financial losses, according to reports pouring in from various parts of the sprawling province. Abandoned cows have joined the Nilgai – the largest Asian antelope – and wild boars which cultivators dread.

An aggrieved farmer, Pappu Yadav, told the Indian Express newspaper: “The city administration and the dairies send trucks loaded with cattle into our villages in the night, to clear them from the city and release them into our fields.”

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Another victim, Simatra Devi, who lives near Adityanath’s Gorakhpur constituency, said: “Our crop has been damaged; 20 quintals have been reduced to five”.

Cultivator Ramghulam Nishad directly blamed Adityanath for the havoc stray cattle is wreaking. “Adityanath says you drink cow’s milk, so you must look after it. But how can we feed our cattle if we can’t make our own ends meet? The animal will turn on the farmer – it is bound to happen if the Muslim does not slaughter it for beef”.

Kalavati Devi in Azamgarh echoed the views of many angry farmers when she declared: “If I had the money, I would collect all the cows and leave them at Adityanath’s doorstep.”

Worse than slaughter

Many Hindus are attacking cows and bulls with a heavy heart. Raju Singh said: “To save our crop, we are attacking our cattle. It’s a sin worse than slaughter.”

But UP’s Muslim farmers are so scared of cow vigilantes that they are silently suffering losses. “A cow injured a girl but no one could say anything. But if we dare lead the cattle away from our neighborhoods, we will be accused of slaughtering them, get beaten up”, the Express quoted Asad Khan saying.

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Analysts blame the BJP’s beef politics for the mess. Harish Damodaran, an expert in agri-business and author of India’s New Capitalists: Caste, Business and Industry in a Modern Nation, bluntly said: “The Hindu cow farmer’s best friend is the Muslim butcher.”

Clearly, tampering with age-old equilibrium is extracting a big toll.