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Our encounter with ‘gau rakshaks’

The context

This was in August of 2014. We had been practicing organic farming at Savera Farm since we bought it in 2012. Through a series of trial and error methods and after exploring various approaches including bio-dynamic farming, we had finally settled on Subhash Palekar’s Natural Farming. And for those of you who may not be aware, desi cow is central to this method. Jevamrutha prepared from urine and dung of the desi cow is practically the only input that Subhash Palekar recommends for practicing natural farming. Here it’s critical that it’s not any cow but a desi cow grazing naturally as the urine and dung of such a cow is very rich in microorganisms. While the milk yield is negligible, the value of the dung and urine of such a cow is tremendous.

In search of Malnad Gidda

So, with this background we were on a mission to get our own desi cows. In the malnad belt where we had our farm, ‘Malnad Gidda’ a short variety, dark brown/black coloured, cow is the native cow of the region. And that is what we wanted. But unfortunately, due to rampant artificial insemination that is practiced now on cows, (and the fact the Malnad Gidda semen is not yet available for such insemination from the Govt vetenary system), there are hardly any pure Malnad Gidda cows in and around the area where my farm is.

Mahesh (name changed), a neighbouring fellow farmer then came to our rescue. He suggested that the best place to get pure Malnad Gidda cows is Subramanya, just down the ghats, in Dakshina Kannada district and not very far from my farm. He volunteered to accompany us on this mission. So, the 3 of us – Mahesh, his brother Praksah (name changed) and myself set out around 7am, in our Mahindra Bolero Pickup to buy some Malnad Gidda cows from Subramanya.

We reached Subramanya around 10 AM. Mahesh had already called up Zakir (name changed) a cow trader in Subramanya the previous day and informed him of our requirement. Zakir is a middleman who connects the buyers with the sellers for a commission. He met us and took us to a farmer who had 2 female cows and a calf for sale. They were indeed pure Malnad Gidda and after having satisfied ourselves with the condition of the cows, we decided to buy these. As we needed atleast 1 more cow, Zakir took us to another farmer nearby who had 1 cow and its male calf for sale. We decided to buy these too. The way the deal worked is that the price we pay included the Zakir’s commission.

The paperwork

Now came the paper work. We went along with Zakir and the owners of the cows to the panchayat office. As the office was working only partly that day due to some local strike, paper work took a long time. But finally, by 2pm we had our papers duly signed by the Panchayat President, with his seal and cash receipt from the Panchayat for the charges paid by us. The papers clearly mentioned the number of cows and calves, sex, colour, height, sellers name and address, purchasers name and address and the Pikup registration number. Satisfied that we had all the papers in order, we started our journey back to my farm in Sakleshpura.

The first sign of trouble

As we reached the Subramanya junction we realised that we were running short of diesel and went to a pump to fill diesel. Having filled the diesel as were about to leave, the attendant told us that a cop wants us to come and meet him. When I went and met him, he asked for my papers for the cows. When I gave him the papers, he checked them out and found them to be satisfactory and said we could go after asking for a small baksheesh. But he warned us to go straight back as the area is full of people who could harass us. At that time, I didn’t understand the reason for his warning, as we had all the papers in order, and were transporting the cows legally for a genuine purpose. We continued our journey back.

The encounter

Soon after leaving Subramanya town, the road starts going through a thickly forested patch before it reaches Gundya on Bangalore-Mangalore highway. We were slowly making our way back and had travelled for around half an hour when two youth on a motor bike overtook us and asked us to stop the vehicle. I pulled the pikup to the side of the road and stopped. The youth came to the pikup and started asking us aggressively where we were taking the cows. While I started explaining to them, who we were and why and where we were taking the cows, one of them cut me short and asked whether any of us were Muslims. I am a Christian by birth and my two friends are Hindus and I told them as such. He retorted that one of my Hindu friends (who had a beard) looks like a Muslim and in any case, we are all cow meat eaters. I once again explained to them that we were farmers and taking the cows to my estate for my natural framing requirements and had all the paper work in order. When I asked them who they were they answered crisply that they belonged to the ‘sangatane’ (meaning the organisation) a locally accepted implied way of saying a right-wing organisation.

They asked me for the papers and I had kept a photocopy of the papers for such eventualities, as advised by Zakir, and gave that set to them. When they saw the papers and realised that we were entirely legit and found that I was an educated person (possibly connected) and was standing my ground firmly, they started talking to each other on how to proceed with us. By then they had made a few calls and another 5-6 bikes with 12-15 youth had gathered all from the ‘Sangatane’. Now they started asking for the original papers, which I refused to give them, saying that I’ll give them only to the cops. Some of them started saying how we could get the papers as the Panchayat was not supposed to be working that day. My retort was ‘go ask the Panchayat’. They did call the Panchayat President who had signed the papers and when he confirmed that he had indeed signed the papers and everything was in order, they started abusing him. Then the one who had stopped me initially told me that he had called the cops and they will be here soon.

The cops arrive

Within 20-25 minutes the cops – a sun Inspector and a few PCs – did arrive in a jeep. They called me and asked for the original papers. After checking the papers, which were obviously in order, they seemed to be in a dilemma what to do with us. I could hear them calling the inspector and explaining the situation to him clearly saying that we seemed to be legit with valid papers.

By them the gau rakshak gang, which had swelled further, having realised that the situation was slipping out of their hand, changed their tune and started talking about cruelty to cows. Now their logic was that 3 cows and 2 calves was too many to take in a pikup truck and I should be actually taking only one. They started using the same arguments with the cops too.

The Inspector, who had also arrived by then, called me aside and said that our paper work seems to be OK, but he is under a lot of pressure and so why don’t we leave 1 cow and its calf in a house nearby and come back for it later as a compromise solution. Given the volatile situation we did not really have a choice but to agree.

The true face of these thugs

As this was being discussed, I heard some of these guys discuss what to do with the cows that were left behind; one was telling the other to take them home, but the latter was not interested as these were desi cows which gives very little milk. The next suggestion was that they should drive them into the forest so that I don’t get them. In the meanwhile, one of them was arguing that we should not have bought the male calf (as males, according to him, are only taken for slaughter), without understanding that a small calf cannot be separated from its mother. They were conversing in the local language (Tulu) without knowing that I knew it. So much for their love of cows!

The second encounter

So finally, we did leave 1 cow and its calf behind and left the place with the rest. The rest of the journey was smooth until we were around 4 Kms from our destination, Savera Farm, at around 9PM. At that stage as we were turning towards our road from the highway a guy in an Ambassador car, which was parked by the side of the road, came speeding and tried to stop us. When we didn’t pay heed and just kept going, he overtook us and stopped in front of us. Getting down from the car he aggressively started asking where we were taking the cows and where were our papers. When I asked who he was and under what authority he was asking, he said he is the President of local chapter of xxx, another right-wing organisation and that he has the power to stop us. At that stage I really lost my cool and confronted this guy. I told him that we were locals and were taking the cows to our farm with all the legit paperwork for our farming needs and what authority did he have to ask. Realising that we were locals and legit, he started backing off and left us after some explaining on how he derived his authority from the organisation and how even the SP and DC listened to him and how he is a great gau rakshak. I understand from my fellow local farmers that he is involved big time in sand smuggling in that area.

The fact that he was obviously waiting for us at that junction, at that hour, clearly points to the fact that he must have been informed by the earlier gang from Subramanya. Given the fact that all these guys are closely connected on WhatsApp groups there is nothing surprising. So finally, having cleared the last hurdle we reached our farm at around 9:30PM and decided to rest for the night and go back for the cows and the calf we had left behind the next day. We didn’t want to take any chances in the middle of the night with these thugs. We had had enough for the day.

The last hurdle

The next morning, Mahesh and Prakash came with another neighbour who was a member of the Sangatane. They said they will go and get the cows and I need not come. They did come back in the afternoon with the cow and the calf but only after getting heavily harassed, this time by the same cops who had asked us the previous day to leave the cow-calf behind. They wanted a hefty bribe to release the cows. With the Sangatane guys gone, it was now the turn of the cops to extract their pound of flesh. They had to use all their skills and local contacts to get out with minimum damage.

The takeaways

I realised a few things that day.

  • That transporting cows even with all the legitimate papers, for perfectly legitimate purpose and genuine intentions, it’s highly dangerous endeavour and simply not worth the risk in today’s environment.

  • That these elements who pose as gau rakshaks have no real love for the cows, but just use this as a pretext to harass vulnerable people and may be fleece them

  • That the cops are hand in glove with these thugs and we cannot expect much protection or justice from them

  • That such aggressive vigilantism has an opposite impact on cow protection and encouraging cow-based farming, which is actually the ultimate guarantor of cow protection

I for one would never want to go through the same experience again. It’s simply not worth the risk and trouble. I don’t think any farmer would want either.

Ofcourse the cows we got that day are thriving in our farm and tremendously helping our natural farming process. The family has now grown to 7 healthy vibrant cows and calves.

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