India's Cow Crisis Part 1: Nepal bears the brunt of India's cow vigilantism

Hounded by cow vigilantes and trade restrictions, farmers in Uttar Pradesh's border areas abandon their unproductive cattle in Nepalese villages creating havoc there 

By Jitendra
Published: Friday 04 January 2019
Photo: Adithyan PC
Photo: Adithyan PC Photo: Adithyan PC

Residents of Semri village in Uttar Pradesh's Sitapur district drew a plan for "invasion" on April 2, 2018. They called a meeting of farmers and agriculture labourers to take a call on the stray cattle menace. 

With the state closing down illegal slaughter houses in the last three-four years and cow vigilantes raiding cattle traders, there have been widespread reports of a surge in stray cattle. Besides crowding urban areas, it has become a major threat to farmers as cattle raid their standing crops.

The meeting in Semri village was one of the rare ones in the village, attracting more than thousand people. Residents say this indicated the intensity of the cattle menace. After heated discussions they all agreed on something extraordinary: Leaving the stray cattle in neighbouring Nepal.

Residents collected Rs 37,000 from households, hired 22 tractors and loaded 255 stray cattle into them. In a caravan, they headed to the border. “More than 40 motorcycles carrying over 100 residents escorted it to the forest areas bordering Nepal,” says Jayshankar Mishra, a villager who organised the whole event. All of them wielded weapons to meet any untoward incidents. As they moved through villages, there were local residents ensuring that the cattle were not abandoned in their village.

Finally, the cattle were abandoned in the Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, a strategic connecting point between Dudhwa National Park and Nepal’s Bardia National Park. When they started offloading the cattle at the Sal-Teak-rich forest, people from a nearby village Gajiapur came out and protested. Villagers caught offloaded cattle and tied them to nearby railway tracks.

A chaos was created. Verbal exchanges soon escalated into violence within the sanctuary area. In the meantime, a train came and ran over more than 30 cattle. Besides, more than a dozen people from both sides were injured. Eventually they fled the gory scene. The police were not informed but a local daily ran a small news item.

This is not a stray decision; many villages are herding stray cattle into Nepalese villages. “It helps in two ways,” says Alok Mishra, a BJP cadre based in Khiri near the Nepal border. “It doesn’t create tension among villages and the animals are left safe as Nepal is a Hindu nation.” The phenomenon has caught on in districts like Khiri, Bahraich and Shravasti that border Nepal.

In Nepal, meanwhile, the stray cattle menace is now emerging as a major problem in bordering villages. Unaware of the chaos in India’s rural areas, 50-year-old Kidi Devi of Jugera village in Dhangadhi—three km from Indian border—is on guard of her 0.2 hectares of wheat crops from stray cattle. This was never the case until a few months back and she was taken unaware when hordes of cattle started raiding farms in villages in Nepal. Her farm is the only source of foodgrains for her 16-member family. Most of her family members migrate to India for jobs but she never imagined that one day cattle from India would threaten her food security.

“Most of the cattle are coming from forests of India,” claims Kidi Devi. Her husband Parane Kame woke up from only four hours of sleep after spending most part of night guarding his field to says that Nepal's existing stray cattle problem—quite prevalent in this area—has increased in the last one year.

“Why is Bharat (India) sending so much cattle to Nepal?” angrily asks Rani, a senior citizen. “The presence of cattle at market, on roads and fields is making our lives harder,” she adds.

The farmers of Kailali, another region bordering India, also face the crisis, leading to loss of crops . Villagers don’t know how and where from the cattle come. Residents of one village pushing the stray cattle to other villages. 

The shutting down of slaughter houses in India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, is impacting Nepalese farmers as well. “Uttar Pradesh had closed down a number of slaughter houses after the new government came to power. This has stopped the supply of our stray cattle to that side,” says Sher Bahadur, who works with a government-owned newspaper in Dhangadhi.

Earlier farmers of Nepal used to sell stray cattle to traders in India. Cattle slaughter is banned in Nepal. But a thriving business in India always helped them earn from unproductive cattle. Now, with Indian slaughter houses closing and stray cattle heading to their country, these farmers do suffer double economic losses.

In order to meet the challenge of stray cattle, the Nepal government is spending a huge amount for building cow shelters in neighbouring municipalities like Dhangadhi, Attaria, Bhumdutt, Shukla Kanta, Lamki and Tikapur have allocated budgets for management of cowsheds. “The total budget allocation is around 10 crore Nepalese rupees for cowsheds and their management,” says Lokendra Bist, a senior journalist based in Dhangadhi. “This money would have been spent on the construction of 50 kilometre of roads in rural areas,” he says.

(This is the first article in the series 'India's Cow Crisis', chronicling the impacts of trade restiction and cow vigilantism) 

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