One of the policies of the signature of the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has been the protection of the cows, but for Raghuvir Singh Meena, a Hindu farmer who fights to protect his crop of chickpeas from itinerant cattle, has gone too far.
Farmers overwhelmingly supported Modi’s nationalist party when it came to power in 2014, but strict measures on cows, which are sacred to Hindus, have caused major headaches to rural communities.
“We have tried everything, scarecrows, and barbed wire, but street animals never miss the opportunity to end our harvest,” Meena told AFP, glancing at her lush fields in the district of Pilani, in Rajasthan, at the West of India.
“They (the government) are playing their politics, they do not care about the poor farmers,” he said before the elections that began on April 11, with Modi running for a second term.
Even before Modi came to power, cow slaughter and beef consumption was banned in Rajasthan and many other states in officially secular India, which also has a large number of Muslim and Christian populations.
But the laws now apply more strictly and punishments have increased. In 2017, the government tried to prohibit the trade of cattle for slaughter throughout the country, only to be rejected by the Supreme Court.
Critics say Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is on a mission to impose “Hindutva”, the hegemony of Hindus, in India, which has 1.25 billion inhabitants.
They also warn that the BJP has emboldened Hindu vigilante groups to attack Muslim minorities and low-caste Dalits with impunity for eating meat, slaughtering and trading livestock.
Incidents of mob lynchings have soared, with 44 people, including one in Rajasthan, killed in cows-related attacks between May 2015 and December last year, says Human Rights Watch.
The BJP says it opposes all violence, but even fear of attacks and harsher laws have severely disrupted the cattle trade.
This has led farmers to abandon old and diseased cows instead of selling them for slaughter, which results in more bovine cattle, causing accidents and causing havoc in rural areas, where 70 percent of the Indians live.
The number of street animals was estimated at 5.2 million in a 2012 cattle census, which takes place every 10 years, as well as for people, but it is believed that the figures have skyrocketed since then.
Since Modi came to power, stray cattle, which often ate plastic trash or ruminated at heavily trafficked intersections, have become a much more common sight in the cities, towns, and cities of India.
In 2015, the last year for which government figures are available, more than 550 people died in accidents related to street livestock.
“Because of these cows protectors, no one dares to touch the cow now,” said Sumer Singh Punia, a former village chief in the Churu district.
“There are not enough shelters for cows and those who are there are so crowded that every day an animal dies,” he told AFP.
“We are Hindus, we do not want to hurt the cow, but we can not afford to keep and feed so many stray dogs when we struggle to make ends meet.”
The unhappiness of voters was already evident when the BJP lost state elections in the mostly agricultural states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in December to the opposition Congress.
The only dedicated “cow minister” of the country in Rajasthan was also expelled.
It was a major change compared to 2014 when the country’s 262 million farmers largely supported the BJP, which promised to double farm incomes by 2022.
Some villagers are now collecting money from their modest savings to take the alleys to makeshift shelters, at least during the harvest season.
In December and January, exasperated farmers across the northern state of Uttar Pradesh locked street livestock in the district’s schools to protect their crops, which meant that the lessons had to be kept out.
Sandeep Kajla, director of Gramya Bharat Jan Chetna Yatra, a social organization based in Pilani, said political parties should include the issue of street cows in their election manifesto.
“A farmer can take care of an animal, but here the cows roam hundreds,” he said.
Gurpreet Mahajan, a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, based in Delhi, said the BJP had been trapped in the hull because of the consequences.