We, suitably intolerant Indians: The confessions of a gau-rakshak
We, gau-rakshaks see the crimes against the cow and family first-hand. The crimes are unspeakable, and we are all suitably intolerant of them — in keeping with our right to remain human
By Jagpreet Luthra
I am into the dangerous work of fighting highly-organised criminals. The battlefield is deserted highways and remote countryside places.
The battle is highly uneven:
The criminals move at an average speed of 120 kilometres per hour, in pick-up vans, trucks and containers, I stand on the road in the hope of stopping them at places where they slow down; the trucks have armed goons in SUVs as escorts, my armour is the law book; they have bribed cops from the top to bottom for a ‘safe passage’, I have cajoled the superintendent of police to make a constable or two stand with me.
They know the price tag of the police uniform, I know its value — as a mighty symbol of the state’s power. Sometimes it is on my side.
They have hundreds of people on their payroll; I cannot get one to work with me, even for a price. Scores of their informants keep tabs on me 24/7. I have to rely on double-crossing agents to track the criminals; they speed past me on motorcycles, I use the borders of the narrow passages of toll gates and service lanes as a walking stretch. Reading the mangled and rusted truck number plates at night is a challenge, but I need to see the numbers, and match the front and back plates.
The trucks stop for a few seconds at these points. Standing guard against them for an average 12 hours, I inhale the poisonous blast of thousands of vehicles day and night. My eyes burn, my throat gets heavy. Sometimes, my duty stretches to 18, even 20 unbroken hours, because the standby has suddenly taken ill or did not hear the wake-up alarm. Leaving my post even for half-an-hour could mean opening the floodgates for the criminals. The police changes sides as soon as I leave.
There are days when I survive on biscuits, tea and water. On others, I deprive the body of fluids because the only decent washroom is 14 kilometres away. I get bitten by mosquitoes of all shapes and sizes, some resembling the Chetak helicopter and, others, the Japanese bomber planes at Pearl Harbour. Come to think of it, mosquitoes are the original air force. Their bites are deadly. It requires strong will power to resist scratching after the bites. When I am foolish enough to do so, I bleed. I talk to the mosquitoes and tell them not to down me in the middle of such important work. When their stings are deep into me, I let them have the last feast. It feels awful to kill.
The smell of the yellow water just ten metres away is unbearable. More so is the spray of red spit from mouths that look like they have a manufacturing defect. What cannot be cured must be endured. The price I am paying is worth it, and there is a thrill on the side. Hell is here and now, not in the afterlife. I will have served my sentence. The criminals will do anything in the world to remove me from their way. I would give anything to wean them away from the crime. They are mostly hulks, half my age. I am a 57-year-old lightweight champion, Kali and Bali rolled into one by aspirations, but a kangdi pehelwan in reality.
I am a gau-rakshak or is it gau-rak-she-ka?
I have faced the brute power of the cattle mafia’s paid mobs many times. Two of these incidents are etched in my memory.
In the July of 2013, in Shahbad police station, Chevella, Ranga Reddy district of Telangana, hundreds of people were milling around me, shouting, cursing and threatening me:
“Kaat ke phenk denge agli baar...”, “police station pahunchne nahin denge”(Next time, we will slaughter you and throw you away, we won’t allow you to reach the police station).
The room in the police station where I sat down to write the FIR was small and flooded with people. I had no elbow room. The junior cops were anxious and confused. They had rarely experienced such a din. Frantic calls to the SP and to the Circle Inspector from my associates in Delhi were needed to convince the police about filing the FIR and about protecting me against the swelling crowds. I had caught a Tata 407 stuffed with cows and bullocks. I entered the police station with just a couple of my people, at around 1 pm.
The police lodged an FIR against the criminals. They slapped a false case of theft against me — of snatching Rs 50,000 from the driver. That was the only way they knew to mollify and disperse the angry mob. There was no way I could have waded my way out of the jungle of people. I was holed up in the police station for six hours. By the time I left in a police vehicle, it was sunset. My companion in our personal vehicle followed me. The scene was dramatic. A convoy of 30 motorbikes and about 80 supporters escorted me out. As we drove through the crowded bazaars, the slogans I had heard at the fall of Babri Masjid filled the air.
“Come again,” the young men screamed happily, as we bid goodbye. I later figured out the cause of this exultation. Over the previous three years, the local people had not been able to get a single case booked against the cattle smugglers. Why? “It is a Muslim-dominated area; we have no chance of being heard.”
In 2014, I was in Soro, Balasore, Odisha. The smugglers had parked their vehicles at the farm house of Congress politician Purna Mahapatra. I wanted to catch them red-handed, in the act of loading the “maal” — around 40 young cows and bullocks. I entered the otherwise deserted house with a police sub-inspector and team of eight cops at 6.45 am. A hired mob laid siege to the house. The politician incited the crowd to beat me. The men in the crowd were wary of touching me. The lone woman did her best to hurt me. She did not succeed.
The cops had formed a human shield around me. My companion was punched by many hands on the face and neck, but got away with minor injuries. Luckily, he was spared the sticks. We were inside the house for four hours. In the melee, the pick-up vans escaped along with the cattle that I wanted confiscated. I hated the fuss. For four days and nights before that, I had been to the hotel room just to bathe, eat and lie down for an hour or so. My head felt like a cold stone.
After the attack, I went straight to the hotel. The police complaint, I thought, could wait. I had hardly fallen asleep when the police inspector of Soro police station, Mormu called. He said, I had to fulfil the formality of presenting myself before him. After all, I had caused quite a stir in his area. My “supporters”, I was told, had jammed NH-5 for over two hours protesting the attack on me.
I was surprised I drew such a following in a place where I had been standing almost alone over the previous 25 days and nights. It was also consoling.
These anonymous supporters, who literally sprout up when I am in trouble, don’t know me personally. They don’t need to. The cause I am fighting for is dear to them. The material support I need for the work comes from my fellow volunteers of Gau Gyan Foundation, based in Delhi. At GGF, we are quite a few of us doing this work 24 hours a day. Those who cannot do it full-time, dedicate fixed hours, monthly funds and service hours at gaushalas.
We don’t get a dime from any government or non-government source.
None of us is a fanatic Hindu.
Some of us are Jains, Christians and Sikhs.
None of us is a politician or a religious preacher.
Nearly all of us, young and old, men and women, went to English-medium schools.
What began with the aborted rescue of a vehicle-hit calf in Delhi — in the middle of a February night in 2012 — soon became a movement for countrywide lawful cattle rescue work. The 1,500 FIRs filed by us against the cattle-smuggling mafia, one of the most organised criminal networks in the country, and the rescue of lakhs of cattle, are proof of our work. Incidentally, we have also saved hundreds of buffaloes and camels because the cattle mafia spares nothing.
What is our motivation? The slaughter of cattle and camels represents human savagery at its worst and we have to stop this from happening. The slaughter also sanctifies the worst kind of violence against other life forms, which dehumanises us individually and collectively. It is an outrage against the environment: Imagine the blood of one crore cattle being spilt into our rivers! Before that it clogs the drains around scores of thousands of households and bazaars where the majority of the illegal slaughter houses are located.
Nothing short of an environmental catastrophe is in the making.
Moreover, it is totally against the law in most of the states. If we could stop the illegal trafficking of cattle on just 15 key routes countrywide, we could contain the crime by 90 percent.
The cattle are killed in horrific ways. We, gau-rakshaks see the crimes against the cow and family first-hand. The crimes are unspeakable, and we are all suitably intolerant of them — in keeping with our right to remain human. But we are highly tolerant of the crimes against us.
A 30-year-old woman volunteer of GGF was stoned by a mob even when she had the police escort as she went to rescue cattle in a Bangalore hamlet. This was in July 2013. In the middle of 2014, the police in Bangalore booked her in a false murder case. At the very time of the murder as per the police records, she was writing an FIR in a cattle rescue case in a Chennai police station.
A 32-year-old man was beaten by villagers as he went to look up the bullocks we had saved in Bhartal, Delhi, in May 2012.
A 20-year-old was shot at in the middle of a rescue in Odisha’s Koraput, and the police slapped a case under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against him. No complaint was registered against his assailants. His 50-year-old father was thrashed in their home to scare him off gau-raksha.
A 35-year-old, attacked with swords outside a police station in Bhubaneswar at 1.30 am, had a lucky escape. Today, he is too scared to accompany me to rescues.
A 25-year-old was beaten by the cattle mafia men in Odisha’s Khorda district two years ago. The cattle he had rescued were snatched from him and he had to pay the police a bribe of Rs 40,000 to wriggle out of a false case of theft. He is yet to recover from the monetary blow.
Three men in their 20s were picked up by the mafia from Nawrangpur in Odisha in September 2015 and dumped half dead in Chhattisgarh. The police found them three days later. They will never do rescue work again.
Seven young men from Odisha’s Sundargarh district, out on a late night rescue in a hired Scorpio, were hit by a truck in what was made to look like an accident. All of them died. This was on the morning of 31 July, 2015. The gau-rakshaks in that district are terrified.
A 19-year-old boy was hacked to pieces in Karnataka’s Davangere district on 28 March, 2015 — for daring to snoop around an illegal dumping area.
I know of scores of other killings.
The cattle mafia buys, bullies, maims and kills the gau-rakshaks — in that order. We, however, refuse to give up. To look away from the horrific crimes against the cow and family is to be a party to them.
I have just come back after spending 37 days in Odisha. This was my fourth trip to the state in the last two years. The Seragarh toll gate on NH-5 in the state’s Balasore district is the converging point for cattle smuggled from four states — Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. This accounts for 80 percent of the vehicular smuggling of cattle through Odisha to the slaughter houses of West Bengal and Bangladesh.
The government and non-government sources, respectively, estimate the number of cattle smuggled into Bangladesh annually at 30 and 70 lakh, respectively. I have first-hand information that nothing less than 4,000 cows, calves, bulls and bullocks are smuggled each day from NH 5 highway alone. That adds up to 15 lakh cattle smuggled annually. This highway is among the four to West Bengal similarly choked.
Large trucks and containers moving at high speed on good roads are all aids to good business. The highway patrol police are there only to shoe the gau-rakshaks off the road. The bribes from the mafia are shared proportionately by the cops depending upon the rank.
It is only sometimes that people like me throw a spanner in the works: not a single truck passed as long as I was in Balasore. The lull is always temporary. The cattle-smugglers, I know, would be back to business as usual in no time.
Tailpiece: I am sitting over 10 kilograms of documents submitted — in bits and big pieces — to chief justices, DGPs, SPs, DMs, chief ministers, law ministers, home secretaries and chief secretaries — over the past three years. During the last year, I met the Union Environment Minister four times and the Union Home Minister once. Just when I thought I could bend their ears — and tell them not to be as indulgent as they are towards the cattle mafia — the virus of tolerance hit the country. Maybe I should now meet the President — along with my ilk of intolerant Indians.
The author is a journalist and volunteer of Gau Gyan Foundation. She is currently working on a book on crimes against the cow and family
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