Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Irina Garg

She lay there frothing at the mouth with bovine trust in the unclosed eyes, barely 200 meters away from a ‘tambu’, artistically playing out the binary theme of black and white. Spotless white tent housing luminous black cows, herded by our man clad in black glares, and white dhoti. The music was easing into the highest pitch possible for the stereo to shatter the fabric of regular, familiar morning sounds.
Shrugging away the sight, he assured us that removing the carcass was nobody’s business and it was destined to rot. 15 years ago the ‘kasai’ would have taken and skinned it and the vultures would have picked the bones clear, leaving those to enrich the soil - dust unto dust. But now, the ‘theka’ had been given by the municipality to someone who could not be bothered. He is now an officially authorised person and in keeping with his status he charges Rs.500/- to come and collect the carcass on being invited on phone. At the same time he ensures nobody encroaches on his turf by preventing anyone else from doing the job for free. If the rotting carcass caused on outbreak of an epidemic, it would be karma as in the case of the missing vultures.
‘You mean to say the vultures disappeared because of their bad karma?’ I asked. “May be, but more likely because of the good and bad karma of the cow owners who inject them with medicines to increase the yield of milk. There, do you observe that cow with her calf?” He pointed out, “they have travelled 250 kms on hari pathi (a medicine that contains diclofenac) - to dull their senses.”
A shiver ran down my spine, if these artificial inducements to facilitate transport and enhance milk production could poison the constitution of the cow leading to extermination of the race of vultures in this area, how far behind were humans who consumed its milk?
Curiosity thereafter, took me to the weekly animal market in Hathwara just 20 kms from Jaipur. The scene was primitive, and yet contemporary- a melange of centuries of human progress at its worst.
The market was spread over 40 acres of municipality land for which it charged Rs. 100 per cow at the entry and Rs. 500 per cow at exit. Technically the ‘ravannah’ slip was required to be taken as a sales cess but was being charged from everyone irrespective of sales, to keep things simple for municipal employees.



There were temporary sheds to house 8 to 10 cows each; some open to the sky, some covered by tarpaulin and some thatched, some even had facilities of a cooler. There was no consensus whether any payment was being made by the owners/ occupiers of these to the municipality, opinion varying from Nil to Rs.18, 000/- per annum. The traders/farmers who used the services of these sheds to house the cows/buffalos were charged Rs.50/- per day per animal. The thatched sheds converted to temporary warehouses for a payment of Rs.1500/- per week per animal, inclusive of all services and food. The option was available to the owners/traders who did not want to commute with their animals for 250 km or more in blistering heat in case of failed transactions. The whole mechanism operated on trust without any acknowledged guarantees or institutional dispute redressal mechanism.  

The cows were tethered along with their calves who were at times just 3 days old and had to accompany their mothers to ensure optimum yield of milk, which was the only criterion for the buyer. Meanwhile, the calves with jaw wraps wilted in the sun. Private enterprise was at full play, encouraged by the municipality since it had not provided any facilities for the traders or animals.  Water was being sold, so was fodder which had been imported from UP at Rs. 7/- kg, and was selling at Rs. 10 kg thanks to the 2 year drought in Rajasthan. Tea stalls and shops selling colourful accoutrements for the (live) stock-in-trade were doing brisk business, an affirmation of the fact that stock being traded was alive. The trade itself was being conducted not through auction but the ancient custom of ‘roomal’, whereby the price was negotiated through interaction of the hands of the buyer and seller under a handkerchief to maintain secrecy. 10 percent was the accepted average rate of return to an aggregator.
Sharing tea with traders yielded dark stories about the ailing system. Stoic acceptance of payments required to be made to departments regulating cargo movement including theirs. ‘At least they let us carry on our trade’, said one such, “the crisis is being generated by youth brigades who simply stop our trucks with allegations of animals being ferried for slaughter. It is absurd why would I pay Rs.18,000/- for a milk cow to slaughter it? It is a pretext to extract money from us. The demand could go up from Rs. 20000/- to Rs. 1 lac. Recently a trader committed suicide when a truckload of his cows had been thus, seized, sent to a gau shala where they had died due to neglect.”
If these marauding brigades are not reined in, the trade would be affected to the detriment of all the stakeholders of the value chain but most significantly for the farmers since it provided an alternate source of income to their primary enterprise i.e. farming which is most afflicted by natural calamities. However, nobody seemed to be listening.
The solution was blindingly simple-certification. All cargo carries some kind of documentation, papers certifying the point of origin and purpose. This could easily be done by a designated person of the Animal Husbandry Department deputed to these markets, who could also use his time there for creating awareness regarding the government schemes for the animals. These certificates could be verified by regulatory authorities, in case of a dispute in transit regarding nature and purpose of cargo. A milk cow’s value and certification would be different from that of a non-milk cow, and provide some security to the traders and animals.
I remember reading that recently, a chapter has been added in textbooks for Class-V in Rajasthan, about cows, wherein a cow lists its utility to humans in terms of production of milk, butter, medicines, fertilizers, and pesticides justifying its designation as a mother or nurturer for the human race. What it fails to acknowledge is its emerging role in generating income for unemployed brigands who under the garb of filial relations use it to extract ransom, sometimes at the cost of the decimation of the ‘Gau Mata’ itself.
I wonder whether our people can imbibe the essence of the concept of cows as mentioned by Maharshi Aurbindo in his book The Secret of the Vedas. According to him ‘go’, ‘usra’, ‘usriy-a’ (Cows), are the ‘herds of the sun, the luminous forms of Dawn.’ Thus, worship of the cow symbolised transcendence from gross materialism and barbarous worship to self-realization and discovery of the ‘inner light’ that dwells in each one of us but is often cloaked in the darkness of ignorance.
I wonder whether we can go back to the Vedas to becoming humane instead of slipping into the bones of the disappearing vultures. By not treating the cows as production machines, can we become perspicacious and understand the role and importance of every rung of the value chain? Can we move from darkness of greed, hypocrisy and ignorance to seek ‘gau’ that is compassion in this trade?
  Can we let the vultures live and get on with being human?

Dr. IRINA GARG (dgniam@hotmail.com) is Director General, CCS National Institute of Agricultural Marketing, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Jaipur Rajasthan (India). Views are personal.

CCS National Institute of Agricultural Marketing