Katarpur has a dwindling population of cows, and a memorial for ‘gau rakshaks’ “martyred” in 1918. Ninety-nine years after that incident, to honour both, the Uttarakhand government has decided to develop the village near Haridwar as a “gau teerth (cow pilgrimage centre)”.
The proposal was made at a meeting last month between RSS functionaries and the Uttarakhand government, including Chief Minister Trivendra Rawat and state Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj. “We have agreed to develop Katarpur as a gau teerth. We are currently gathering the history of this village of cow-protecters, and will include it in the Uttarakhand tourism brochure,” Maharaj told The Sunday Express.
Rajendra Singh Chauhan is the president of the village’s 11-member ‘Gau Rakshak Samiti’. Pointing to a miniature model of a cow in marble, at the 40-year-old ‘Gau Rakshak Shaheed Smarak’, Chauhan says, “This is the exact spot where Muslims had tied cows to slaughter them on Bakr Eid, almost a century ago. The British records mention that three Muslims were killed, but our ancestors told us many more Muslims were killed and a few Hindus died saving the cows from being slaughtered by Muslims.”
A magazine published by the Gau Rakshak Samiti says that following the clash, four persons, including Chaudhary Mukkha Singh Chauhan, after whom a village road is named, were hanged to death. At least 136 more from Katarpur and 29 nearby villages were sentenced to 10 years, and sent to Kala Pani on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Following the 1918 clash, all the Muslims of Katarpur had left. But since then, this village of around a thousand upper-caste Hindus, 1,600 Dalits, and 1,200 Muslims has not seen any communal riot. Muslims too follow the ban against animal sacrifice, ordered after the communal clash.
The 600-odd Chauhans of the village call the gau teerth decision “historic”, though they admit that from being a primarily cattle-rearing community, they have moved on to other occupations. Now it’s Muslims who are the main cattle owners of Katarpur. Rajendra Singh (45), the head of the Gau Rakshak Samiti, has no cows at his pucca house. His grandfather Umrao Singh Chauhan had been among those sentenced to 10 years in Kala Pani. The 12-member family of Sudhir Chauhan (44), whose great grandfather Fakira Chauhan was imprisoned too, has only one cow in a spacious shelter.
A village fair that had become an annual feature after 1918, with the best cows kept near the Gau Rakshak Shaheed Smarak, “to inspire villagers to take up cattle-rearing”, died a quiet death 10 years ago. As the evening sun lingers on rain-washed grass, Samim Ahmad (40) chases his four calves into a sugarcane plantation. He is taking them to be tied at the “chhani (cow shed)”.
“Ham to kabhi koi janwar nahin marte, Eid par bhi nahi. Ye hamare gaon ka niyam hai aur ham iska paalan karte hain (We do not kill any animals, not even on Eid. Animal sacrifice is prohibited in the village and we respect the rule),” says Ahmad who, with about 60 cows and at least 25 calves, owns the highest number of cattle in the village.
Drawing milk from one of his cows to deliver it to milkman Gopal Pal (40), who would sell it to households in Katarpur, Ahmed discusses plans to take a bank loan to purchase more cows. With his cows keeping him occupied between 5 am and 11 pm, Ahmed says he is clueless about the proposal to make Katarpur a gau teerth, so doesn’t know what it would entail for a cattle-rearer like him. “I just want to know how to get a loan to purchase more cows, that’s all,” he says.
Devi Prasad Kashyap, who owns 15 cows, has heard of the gau teerth plan, and hopes it would mean easy availability of veterinary doctors. “Getting doctors to treat our cows is a challenge. It takes up to two days to get one. We cannot afford to lose a cow after spending up to Rs 45,000 to buy it,” says Ashok Kumar Sharma (61), Kashyap’s partner at the dairy. Both Ahmad and Kashyap also worry about “gau rakshaks”. Ahmad talks about the time he visited Panchkula (Haryana), in March this year, to purchase 15 cows. He decided to walk down the 200 km with the animals than use a vehicle, he says.
“Gau rakshakon ke darr ke maare main 18 din paidal chala, tez baarish mein bhi. Raat mein jungle mein gai baandh deta tha aur unke paas so jata tha. Agar gaadi mein gai lata toh gau rakshak raaste mein kahin pakad na len, maar na den, is darr se main paidal hi gai le aaya (Because of the fear of gau rakshaks, I walked for 18 days, even in pouring rain. In the night, I would tie the cows and sleep next to them. I didn’t want to take a chance in a vehicle, of being caught by a gau rakshak, and getting killed),” Ahmad says.
Even now he sleeps besides the cow-shed, in his dera (hut), which comprises a thatched roof with a cot inside.
Ashok Sharma says Hindu outfits keep a watch on cows entering and leaving the village. “They are running a business in the name of cow protection. Each time they spot a vehicle carrying cows, they harass the owner to pay them money for the vehicle to proceed,” Sharma says.
Kashyap’s great-grandfather was among the 136 people who were sent to Kala Pani, but he stays away from the Gau Rakshak Smarak Samiti. “There’s a difference between gau paalan (rearing cows) and gau raksha (protecting cows). My ancestors were cattle-rearers,” Kashyap (49) says.
The members of the Gau Rakshak Smarak Samiti, however, claim they never act like the “gau rakshaks” of today. Admitting the “irony” in Muslims raising more cows in Katarpur than Hindu families, Rajendra Singh says, “We hope to change that when the funds for cow-rearing and setting up gaushalas (cow-shelters) are provided by the state government to develop the village into a gau teerth.”
The government though is a long way from that, having not worked out the logistics of the plan yet.
Turning back to his cows, Ahmad reflects that maybe a gau teerth won’t be such a bad thing. “Will it be easier for me to purchase more cows? Gau rakshak gunde mujhe rokenge ya maarenge toh nahin (Or will the gau rakshak goons continue to stop and assault me)?”