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In western UP, places like Mathura show cow protection can go hand-in-hand with the development agenda

Shailja Kant Mishra, a 1977 batch IPS officer of the Uttar Pradesh cadre, was a tough cop and spelled terror among the powerful mafias of western Uttar Pradesh in the early 1990s. He won several awards and honours for his service, but his curriculum vitae would be incomplete if his dedication to the cause of cow protection is not mentioned. As a young superintendent of police in Mathura in the late 1980s, he created a veritable impregnable zone that cattle smugglers could not breach. As a result, each police station in Mathura ended up housing hundreds of cows saved from slaughterhouses.

Mishra was often snubbed for what was then perceived as his idiosyncrasy arising out of his deep faith in a revered saint, Devraha Baba. As a police officer, he was guided by the law and the Constitution that directs citizens to protect cows. And he chose not to look the other way when cattle smugglers herded animals in trucks destined for slaughterhouses.

Mishra took voluntary retirement long before the time for superannuation and was living in Jabalpur for a decade when he got a call from Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for a unique assignment. He was tasked to develop the entire Mathura and Vrindavan region as a model tourist destination and lead a body called Uttar Pradesh Braj Tirtha Vikas Parishad (UP Braj Pilgrimage Development Board) as vice-chairman with the chief minister as chairman. His task was no doubt multi-fold. But the closest to his heart was cow protection in the birthplace of Lord Krishna.

 In western UP, places like Mathura show cow protection can go hand-in-hand with the development agenda

The administration tapped into this accrued capital of popular sentiments to mobilise villagers to create shelters in villages to host stray cattle on the government land. Image procured by the author

In the midst of an ongoing controversy over stray cattle ruining farmers' crops in western Uttar Pradesh and apparently causing resentment against the government, Mathura offers a model of protecting cows from slaughter in a way that is perfectly in sync with people’s religious sentiments for the sacred animal. The Tirtha board has also instituted a private-public partnership to develop a cow shelter in Raal village of Vihar area.

In Mathura and Vrindavan, mythologies abound. Lord Krishna was believed to be roaming around these forests, known simply as 'van', along with cows. The administration tapped into this accrued capital of popular sentiments to mobilise villagers to create shelters in villages to host stray cattle on the government land. At Raal, a large tract of government land was transferred to the Tirtha board which also persuaded some businessmen to come forward and build facilities for cows.

As of now, nearly 400-odd cows are sheltered in Raal where gram pradhan Ishwar Dayal along with a devout cow-worshiper, Ashok, are working round the clock to provide fodder and shelter to the cattle. Rajesh Agarwal, a prominent Delhi-based businessman, has chipped in to build the most modern cow shelters that will strive to make the unit economically viable too. "But more than economics, we are trying to create a perfect synergy among three agencies — the government, people's sentiment and private entrepreneurs," says Mishra.

A few kilometres from Raal is the famed village of Barsana where a seer named Ramesh Baba runs a gaushala (cowshed) that shelters nearly 45,000 cows. The manner in which this shelter runs is nothing short of a miracle. Baba does not have even a bank account and relies on people's munificence to feed cattle. There are umpteen stories about how people come to support his cause whenever the seer falls short of resources.

As the election campaign picked up in western Uttar Pradesh, the narrative of the "cattle menace" to farmers and the resultant social resentment was created to highlight the deleterious effects of pursuing a militant Hindutva agenda. No doubt the running of illegal abattoirs all around the state and cattle smuggling formed a huge economy running into thousands of crores and involved a large number of people. The fact is that the crackdown on cattle smuggling and cow slaughter have undoubtedly upended the underworld economy.

The difference between Adityanath and his predecessors is too obvious to be ignored. Given his spiritual training as a monk, his religious dogma of protecting cows is aligned with his constitutional responsibility as the chief minister. Since cow slaughter in Uttar Pradesh is banned by law, he is giving no space to enforcement agencies to be lenient on this count. His predecessors however took a pragmatic approach of allowing cattle smuggling to flourish and ignoring the growing underworld economy which employed thousands over the years. Adityanath seems too obstinate to adhere to the rule of law as for him, the cow is an article of faith.

As chief minister, he is determined to invoke the strength of society and its deep religiosity to evolve a model of cow protection aligned with Hindu traditions and respectful of society's spiritual yearning. To a modernist, he appears to be a quaint and anachronistic personality. Yogi has been devising a way out of this dilemma by evolving Mathura as a role model of development in the entire state. That he chose an equally headstrong Shailja Kant Mishra to lead this project speaks plenty about his conviction of moving ahead on this path.

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Updated Date: Apr 15, 2019 16:04:00 IST

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