Cow Vigilantism Impacting Livelihood
Besides affecting meat trade and leather exports, the burden of
unproductive cattle is adding burden on states’ exchequers.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch Group has put the number of those killed at the hands of the violent cow protection campaigners between May 2015 and December 2018, in 12 states of India, at 44. Of them, 36 were Muslims. Another 280 people were injured in over a hundred incidents in 20 states.
The 104-page report unveiled in the last week of February 2019, examines Hindu nationalist vigilante attacks.This report details 11 vigilante attacks that killed 14 people and the government response. It examines the link between cow protection and the Hindu nationalist political movement and the failure of local authorities to enforce constitutional and international human rights obligations to protect vulnerable minorities. In most of the cases documented in the report, families of victims, with the support of lawyers and activists, were able to make some progress toward justice, but many families fear retribution and do not pursue their complaints. The report also examines the impact of the attacks and the government response on those whose livelihoods are linked to livestock, including farmers, herders, cattle transporters, meat traders, and leather workers.
In almost all of the cases, the police initially stalled investigations, ignored procedures, or even played a complicit role in the killings and cover-up of crimes. Instead of promptly investigating and arresting suspects, the police filed complaints against victims, their families, and witnesses under laws that ban cow slaughter. In several cases, political leaders of Hindu nationalist groups, including elected BJP officials, defended the assaults. In a particularly egregious case of political opportunism, after two people including a police officer were killed in mob violence in December 2018 in Uttar Pradesh state, the chief minister described the incident as an “accident,” and then went on to warn, “Illegal slaughtering, and not just cow slaughter, is banned in the entire state.”
In July 2018, India’s Supreme Court issued a series of directives for “preventive, remedial and punitive” measures to address “lynching” – the term used in India for killing by a mob. While cow protection is an emotional issue for many Hindus, the Supreme Court denounced violent attacks by so-called cow protectors, saying: “It is imperative for them to remember that they are subservient to the law and cannot be guided by notions or emotions or sentiments or, for that matter, faith.”
According to a survey by New Delhi Television, there was a nearly 500% increase in the use of communally-divisive language in speeches by elected leaders – 90% of them from the BJP-between 2014 and 2018, as compared to the five years before the BJP came to power. Cow protection formed an important theme in a number of these speeches.
Stricter laws combined with vigilantism have disrupted India’s cattle trade and have adversely impacted the rural economy as well as the leather and meat export industries.
“It’s not just about Muslims,” said P.Sainath, an author, journalist and expert on India’s agricultural economy. Previously, cattle owners, including many Hindus, who were unable to cope with the economic burden of keeping unproductive livestock, sold the cattle to slaughterhouses. Now, he said, forced to continue feeding and caring for them, many have simply abandoned the animals. This has caused problems for farmers, with stray cattle destroying their crops.
M.L. Parihar, an author and agricultural expert, said: “The Hindutva leaders who are promoting this obsession with cows don’t realize how much loss they are causing to their own Hindu community, and damage they are causing to their country.”
The violence appears to have contributed to a significant decrease in the number of animals traded at government-organized cattle fairs. The Rajasthan state government organizes 10 cattle fairs annually. In 2010-11, over 56,000 cows and bulls came to these fairs and more than 31,000 of them were sold. In 2016-17, their numbers dropped to less than 11,000, with less than 3,000 of them sold.
Figures from Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Authority under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry reveal that buffalo beef exports have declined from US $4.8 billion in 2014-15 to US $ 4.03 billion in 2017-18 due to restrictions and raids shutting down of slaughterhouses.
India produces nearly 13 percent of the world’s leather and the leather industry is a major foreign exchange earner. It has an annual revenue of over US$12 billion (exports are $5.7 billion and the domestic market is $6.3 billion) and provides employment to about three million people, 30 percent of whom are women. In 2017, the government identified the leather industry as key to generating jobs and for growth. At the same time, the government survey admitted that “despite having a large cattle population, India’s share of cattle leather exports is low and declining due to limited availability of cattle for slaughter in India.”
Leather Exports Down
Fear of cow vigilantes and shutdown of hundreds of slaughter houses have led to disruption in availability of cattle hides, say leather manufacturers and exporters. While export of leather and leather products grew by over 18 percent in 2013-14 and 9 percent in 2014-15, they declined by nearly 10 percent in 2015-16. They picked up only slightly in 2017-18, by 1.4 percent. The leather exports declined from US $ 6.49 billion in 2014-15 to US $ 5.14 billion in 2017-18.
Burden on Exchequer
Maintaining the invalid and unproductive cows has emerged as a drain on farm economy as well as the states’ exchequer. Population of the stray cows has been rising in the countryside. Farmers who cannot afford to maintain them let them loose thereby causing risk for standing crops. The BJP Government has come up with gaushalas (cow shelters) and has introduced new cesses for the purpose. In Uttar Pradesh, angry villagers have reportedly started letting cows in Government schools and offices. The UP Government has allotted Rs. 836 million to open new cow shelters.
In 2016, the Haryana state government allotted 200 million rupees ($2.8 million) to the GauSevaAayog for the protection and welfare of cows. In 2018, the budget rose to 300 million rupees ($4.1 million. Yet these are not sufficient to accommodate all the invalid cows. There are 150,000 cows on the streets.
Rajasthan has a separate cow ministry. In 2016, there were 550,000 cows and bulls in government-funded gaushalas. By 2018, this number had grown to 900,000. The government budget for this dedicated ministry has grown exponentially-from Rs. 130 million in 2015-16 to Rs. 2.56 billion in 2017-18.
Madhya Pradesh opened its first cow sanctuary in September 2017, costing 320 million rupees ($6.2 million). However, on opening day it was overwhelmed by farmers from nearby villages who showed up with 2,000 cows. Five months later, the sanctuary had to stop admitting any more cows due to lack of manpower and funds.
Jharkhand doubled its monetary support to gaushalas to 100 million rupees ($1.4 million) in 2016. In 2017, the Maharashtra government said it would spend 340 million rupees ($6.7 million) to set up cow shelters. In Punjab, when the state power company stopped free electricity supply to cow shelters in May 2017, it angered BJP leaders and prompted questions from the head of the state’s GauSewa Commission.
For full report log onto: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/02/18/interview-killing-name-cows.