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Rajasthan's Cow Vigilantism Is Linked to Stringent Trade Laws, Meagre Subsidies

India's highest livestock trading state, Rajasthan's cattle traders and farmers expect easing of trade laws.

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"Consider we want to bring a cow from Bharatpur itself, they don't let us. They create ruckus even if we show them official documents of purchase. There are times when people are beaten. As a result, we are not able to buy cows from very far," said Rafiq (62), a farmer from Rajasthan's Kaman near the Uttar Pradesh border.

Kaman is a town with significant population of Muslims. Rafiq and many others from the community have been into farming and rearing cattle for decades. However, the conflicts with right-wing Hindutva groups over alleged cow smuggling and fear of vigilantes have led many from the community to stop rearing cattle altogether.

India's highest livestock trading state, Rajasthan's cattle traders and farmers expect easing of trade laws.

Kaman local body office.

(Photo: The Quint)

The cow has always been a part of the town's socio-economic and religious culture. The town is a part of ‘Braj’ area, where Lord Krishna is believed to have spent his early life, enhancing the religious significance of cows in the region.

Simultaneously, the town is also known to be a hub of smuggling cattle outside the state, given its proximity to the UP border.

While local police did acknowledge communal conflicts over cattle smuggling and vigilantism to be a pressing issue in the region, Rajasthan's cow protection problem takes more tangents than that.

"The schemes of successive governments have not been enough. With rising prices, more and more farmers have started to abandon cows as they cannot afford to take care of them anymore. There are subsidies that we get for milch cows but there isn't much for when they stop giving milk." said Kanhaiya Lal, a farmer from Kaman.

The farmers and cattle-rearers eventually abandon the cattle, who then become vulnerable to illegal trading, he said.

A look at 3 key interconnected aspects of Rajasthan's cow protection problem:

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1. The Difficulty in Legal Trade

For years, activists and experts have been raising issues with the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act.

Many cite problems with the vague nature of Section 12 and Section 12A of the Act which are stated as follows:

  • Section 12: Power to enter and inspect places by a competent autority or authorised individuals where there is reason to believe that an offence under this Act has been, or is likely to be committed.

  • Section 12A: Power of arrest and seizure by a competent authority or any person authorised without unnecessary delay.

Experts say that the nature of the law empowers vigilantes in the border regions of the state around UP and Haryana to take the law in their own hands.

India's highest livestock trading state, Rajasthan's cattle traders and farmers expect easing of trade laws.

In July this year, kin of lynching victims — Khurshidan, wife of Umar Khan; Parmina, wife of Nasir Khan; Sajida, wife of Junaid Khan; Asmeena, wife of Rakbar Khan, and Irshad, son of Pehlu Khan — challenged these sections of the Act in the Supreme Court.

While Umar and Pehlu Khan were allegedly killed by cow vigilantes in Alwar district in 2017, Junaid and Nasir were allegedly killed in Ghatmika vilage of Bharatpur district in February this year.

The apex court, however, asked them to take up the petition with the high courts.

Another issue with the Act is Section 5 dealing with the sale of cattle outside the state.

The section states:

  • No person shall export any bovine animal from any place within the state to any place outside the state for the purposes of slaughter or with the knowledge that it may be or is likely to be slaughtered.

The Rajasthan government in the past has attempted to bring some relaxation to this clause by attempting to bring in an amendment in 2017.

A cabinet sub-committee was formed during the Vasundhra Raje government in 2017 had reportedly decided to allow male calves aged two years and above to be exported outside the state strictly for agricultural purposes and breeding.

The committee had also decided that such an export should only be allowed to states where there is a strict ban on cow slaughter.

After the Gehlot government came to power in 2018, the decision was not taken forward and the amendment remains pending till date.

Rashtriya Loktantrik Party MLA Pukhraj had raised a question in the Rajasthan Assembly regarding the pending amendment in March this year. The government in its reply had said that the process to bring in the amendment is "under process."

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2. 'Inadequate Subsidies' to Rear Cattle

Just hours before we spoke to Rafiq, an incident was reported about a stray cow being shot by two unidentified men in an attempt to abduct it. As we followed a local activist to the scene of the incident, the injured cow was spotted in an open land with two men of a local gauraksha dal were trying to get hold of it to take it to a hospital.

As its foot bled, we spotted scores of other stray cattle on the land.

"These poor creatures have either been abandoned or diseased. Since cattle-rearers and farmers cannot afford to take care of them beyond a point, they just leave them on the streets to fend for themselves. There aren't enough cow shelters to take them in," a local said.

India's highest livestock trading state, Rajasthan's cattle traders and farmers expect easing of trade laws.

A cow shot allegedly by cow smugglers in Kaman town, Rajasthan.

(Photo: The Quint)

Unaffordability to keep tending to cows after they stop giving milk is an issue for farmers across the states.

Successive state governments have tried to address the issue. Some measures of the government include:

  • Co-operative milk production bodies associated with the government buy milk from farmers at the price of Rs 5 per litre under the Mukhymantri Dugdh Utpadak Sambal Yojana. This price was increased from Rs 2 per litre when the scheme was started in 2019.

  • Cattle-rearers getting insurance of Rs 40,000 each for two milch animals under the Chief Minister Kamdhenu Pashu Bima Yojana.

  • A grant of Rs 40 for big cattle and Rs 20 for smaller animals is provided to cow shelters to tackle the menace of stray cattle.

Farmers, however, say that a lot is yet to be done for boosting the financial ability of the farmers to keep rearing cows once they stop giving milk.

"We need assistance to take care of cattle once they are old or stop giving milk. Most farmers are already reeling under loans. They need to have more focussed schemes on specific challenges like the costs of fodder, etc," Kanhaiya Lal said.

Many in the region feel that every government makes tall promises but nothing concrete is done to solve the financial distress that farmers go though to rear cattle.

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3. Vigilantism by Right Wing Hindutva Groups

While most locals spoke freely about the challenges being faced due to lack of financial support and trade restrictions, they weren't as open about the issue of cow vigilantes.

India's highest livestock trading state, Rajasthan's cattle traders and farmers expect easing of trade laws.

Rafiq (65), a farmer from Kaman, Rajasthan.

(Photo: The Quint)

"My father used to rear way more cows than I do now. My children do not take care of cattle the way I do. It is not economical. So many people in the village have started moving to other professions. When we had more cows, we used to sell more milk and milk products. But with time, many in my extended family who used to rear cattle also started moving to alternate professions," Rafiq said.

"I am an engineer. My father has been a farmer all his life but he has never harmed a cow. Initially it was only the trade restrictions and lack of financial assictance, but we can vouche for how vigilantism has scared Muslims of the village away from rearing or trading in cattle," a 39-year-old man said on the condition of anonymity.

Speaking to The Quint, ADG Himmat Singh said that the force keeps a strict vigil on issues of both cow smuggling and vigilantism.

India's highest livestock trading state, Rajasthan's cattle traders and farmers expect easing of trade laws.

"There is no doubt that smuggling happens. Places like Dausa, Jaipur, and Alwar are known hotspots. The location of Bharatpur is such that it is easy to reach Haryana. Once any cows are caught being smuggled illegally, they are brought here," he said.

"We don't associate with gau rakahsks as much. That happens in Haryana where the police support such elements and they enjoy the protection of the government. We don't do that here," he added.

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