Every night after dinner, Bhagwat Singh, a septuagenarian from Kheri Bhanauta village in Greater Noida, heads to his farm. He spends the night at a makeshift hut so as to keep an eye on intruders — stray cattle.
“It’s either me or someone from the family. We have to keep a 27/7 watch,” he says.
Singh, like many other farmers in western Uttar Pradesh, is in distress due to the rise in the incidents of stray cattle damaging their crops. “We faced heavy losses. We are three brothers who jointly own 25 bigha farmland where we used to cultivate millet. Everything has been destroyed,” he adds.
Farmers say they are clueless about what to do with cows that have stopped giving milk.
“Earlier, cows enjoyed a mother-like status and they were revered because of their usage in agriculture. But now, machines have replaced cows. That’s the reason why they have become stray,” says Mahendra Singh, another elderly farmer from the village who claims to have lost anywhere between Rs 4 to Rs 5 lakh this season due to the damage stray cows inflict on his fields.
With a population of around 3000, Kheri Bhanauta is village dominated by people from Hindu Gujjar community who are mostly into farming. A portion of land barely 100 metres from the village used to be available for grazing. But now, it is being used for the construction of high-rise residential flats.
“Stray cattle don’t now have fields for grazing which is why they are entering farms and destroying crops,” says Rahul Kumar, a young farmer in his twenties.
The farmers have tried everything possible to deal with the issue. They once even locked around 35-40 bovines in an enclosure and appealed to the authorities to take them to cow shelters. “For six days, we looked after their food and water requirements. A week later, the authorities came to our help and took some of them away. But they didn’t take all of them,” Rahul says.
For them, looking after cows that have stopped giving milk can put a heavy strain on their finances as the cost of maintaining a cow comes to anywhere around Rs 400-500 per day.
Even though cow vigilantism and mob lynching have become one of the most pressing issues in recent years, the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government has actively supported the cause of cow protection. Last month, the chief minister ordered all stray cattle to be shifted to shelters. Each district was allotted a sum of Rs 1.2 crore to set up gaushalas (cow shelters).
But cow vigilantism has also given rise to another problem — disposing of dead cattle. Sant Ram, a farmer in his fifties says that when cows die, there’s no one to pick up their dead bodies.
“Earlier, people from the Harijan community (Dalit) would do this job. But now, they have stopped because they are now scared. Transportation of cows is a big safety threat. They are routinely rounded up by the police officials who accuse them of cow smuggling and slaughter,” he says.