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OF THE over 2,300 applications received by Maharashtra’s animal husbandry department for the non-salaried post of animal welfare officers, 25 are Muslim. If this seems ironic, there is a reason.
Most of the applications — as The Indian Express reported Tuesday — are ostensibly to track the beef ban but when it comes to Muslim candidates, their forms show that “animal welfare” goes beyond gau raksha. Most of them who spoke to The Indian Express said the ID cards will give them better access to government schemes and medical facilities for animals. At least four of these applicants have diplomas in animal husbandry and dairy management, some are private veterinarians, others are engaged in farming or business, and one is the editor of a local newspaper.
Says applicant Mujahid B Shaikh of Satara: “My friends and I have been trained to handle snakes and we rehabilitate hyenas and leopards. We constantly require ropeways, and sometimes vehicles urgently. The ID card will help us seek immediate help.”
Asked about gau rakshaks applying for the card, he says, “It’s wrong. This honorary card is to help every animal… not to distinguish between cows and other animals.”
In Chandrapur, which borders Telangana, Razik Khan, son of a local Congress leader, says the issue of gau raksha needs a larger solution. “How does a poor farmer, struggling to survive, keep his ailing cattle?” says Khan, who hails from Gadchandur, near NH7.
Khan applied for the post to collect information on government schemes to protect cattle and create awareness among farmers in the 350 villages near Gadchandur. “Instead of stopping trucks and creating a scare, why doesn’t the government or gau rakshaks compensate farmers for the cows they are forced to sell?” he asks.
Khan points to the dry period between December and June, during which farmers are forced to sell ailing cows, bulls or bullocks. “The irrigation infrastructure is inadequate in our region, everything gets affected during a bad crop cycle. In extreme situations, hospital authorities do not even visit the ailing cattle, and farmers cannot afford to feed the animals. The gau rakshaks can take custody of all the cows, provided they compensate the farmers,” he says.
Shoeb Hussain, 31, of Khamgaon in Buldhana, is a private veterinarian and attends to calls from villages within a 30-km radius where government practitioners do not reach. “I hope the honorary position will help me connect the administration to villages,” he says.
Hussain also wants to ensure gau rakshaks do not interfere with a farmer’s “personal decision”. “It’s not necessary that all vehicles carrying cattle go to slaughterhouses. In many cases, I have seen the trauma a farmer goes through when he sells his cow. It’s like family. These vigilantes stop these trucks, take the cow and the farmer suffers losses,” he says.
Hussain says the definition of gau rakshak has also changed. “Many of those involved in animal welfare have done courses to rehabilitate animals. We spend months in understanding each illness, studying strains, vaccines. Unfortunately, those 10 per cent in the news now only know how to make noise,” he adds.
Javed Sabeer, 27, of Amravati agrees but adds that he is disappointed to know the post is honorary and doesn’t offer any income. “I have an acre of land and two cows, and I grow soybean. I was hoping this card would help get benefits for my cows. I was also told this will help me to ensure that gau rakshaks don’t impose themselves in our areas,” says Sabeer.
In neighbouring Danji , Irfan Shaha, 24, says the big issue is the absence of proper medical care for animals. “There are so many deaths during the monsoon, especially of cows, bulls and even goats. Traditional knowledge and methods of treatment have their limitations,” he says.
Shaha, a farmer, recalls many instances when he watched an animal die, with no help coming from any hospital. “For me, this application is a personal decision. If I get selected, I will go to government offices and learn about medical schemes available to farmers and spread the word,” he adds.
In Danji, Shaha lives with five other Muslims who have been “vegetarians for decades”. “Every other community in this village is vegetarian. We go by the attitudes in the settlement. I help my fellow farmers… nobody has the time to be a gau rakshak,” he says, laughing.
Sayyed Noor, 47, a news editor of Mehkar Citizen in Buldhana, uses his newspaper to speak out against cruelty to animals. “If I can help animals with this card, wouldn’t it be wonderful? There is no other motive. The application form spoke of all animals. I don’t know anything about gau raksha, which has become a business. Not every transaction ends at the butcher’s shop, genuine farmers are being affected,” he says.
Abdul Sattar, 41, from Mehkar in Buldhana, says he has been caring for his two cows since the last 15 years, even to the extent of not taking a vacation. “Both are of the Gir Rajasthan breed. Two other cows died earlier and I buried them with all due respect,” he says.
Sattar says his Hindu farmer-friends have helped him with cattle feed. “There are no religious undertones in most places. It only happens when some want to bring that in… Hindus and Muslims.”
He says a clear line needs to be drawn between gau seva and gau raksha. “The second group has a political tone… it is about TRP,” says Sattar.