‘Your Mother, You Bury Her’: Gujarat Dalits Abandon Cow Carcasses

In the largest moment of lower caste unity, Dalits refused to dispose off cow carcasses.

3 min read
(Photo Courtesy: Reuters)

The cow is believed to be a sacred animal by some. During its lifetime, it is revered and stands as a symbol of purity. Upper caste Hindus deem lower castes to be inferior to this holy animal and unworthy of being in its contact.

The moment it passes away, its sacredness dies with it. Upper castes disassociate themselves with this dead animal – and finally expect Dalits to deal with the corpse.

Dalits are expected to deal with the corpses. (Photo Courtesy: Reuters)
Dalits are expected to deal with the corpses. (Photo Courtesy: Reuters)

Historically, the ascribed profession of lower castes, especially the Chamars, was corpse disposal. With the subliminal continuance of the caste system, Dalits in contemporary India continue to serve society by tending to the carcasses of the dead cattle.

In what is historically one of the largest instances of Dalit unity, lower castes in Gujarat have refused to tend to the remains of deceased cows to protest against the beating up of their Dalit brethren in Una. They were accused of skinning a dead cow, something that was a part of their job.

In  Una, seven Dalit men were brutally beaten up for skinning a dead cow. (Photo: ANI screengrab/Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)
In Una, seven Dalit men were brutally beaten up for skinning a dead cow. (Photo: ANI screengrab/Altered by The Quint)

According to a report by The Times of India, bovine carrion lies unattended in the suburbs. The residents of Surendranagar have complained of a vile stench that emanates from a buffalo cadaver decomposing for days, next to the Ganpati railway crossing.

There are nearly one crore cows and buffaloes in Gujarat that have a mortality rate of 10%. Roughly 2,500 animals die each day. 
Animal Husbandry Department

Panjrapoles (or cowsheds) are areas where ailing and sick cows are sent. There are about 283 panjrapoles around Gujarat. Managers of these sheds have asked the sarpanch of districts to stop sending sick cows because they are already struggling to dispose of the dead ones.

We can only pray that no more cows die. We will soon call a meeting of our gau rakshaks and discuss ways to dispose of the carcasses.
Haresh Joshi, Hindu Gau Raksha Dal

Coordinators are now resorting to using equipment like earth movers to bury buffaloes.

Reclaiming Their Dignity

Gujarat may be on the brink of a civic crisis. Not disposing off corpses can lead to a plethora of health hazards, including cholera and many gastrointestinal problems. Even the inhalation of the foul fumes from the cadavers of decomposing animals can be extremely dangerous.

In an instance, the Surendranagar collector offered Rs 200 for the disposal of a singular body. The Dalit shot back and said he’d offer Rs 500 to an official who would dispose of the body themselves.

The Dalits of Saurashtra dumped cow carcasses in government offices on Tuesday, asking ‘gau rakshak’ groups to dispose of the dead cows – a job Dalits were burdened with.

The double standard is gaping here. The gau rakshaks should perform the last rites of whom they believe to be their mother.

Even today, Dalits are predominantly manual scavengers and sewer cleaners. These are jobs that get no appreciation but in the absence of a workforce who can discharge these duties, a civic catastrophe is inevitable.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept his silence on the Una Incident, as he has done during the entire Dadri lynching uproar. This not only reflects his silent support to the perpetrators, but also indicates larger national attitude towards lower castes and how much they’re devalued.

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