Authorities in the Indian state of Gujarat found themselves dodging cows and piles of cow dung after thousands of cattle were released by their caretakers from shelters and led onto main streets and key government offices.
Videos of the chaos has gone viral. One video shows cops trying to control a huge herd of cows barging inside a government facility. In another video, cows are seen chilling in a government office – with a mission.
Over the last few days, subsidized nonprofits running nearly 1,750 cattle shelters across the state have been protesting the lack of government aid to save their sacred cows from the deadly lumpy skin disease (LSD). Caused by a virus transmitted by blood-feeding insects, LSD has affected countries across Asia. But as nearly 170,000 cows in Gujarat got infected and 6,000 died from it, caretakers found themselves ‘cow-bombing’ public and government spaces as a last resort.
“We’ve been protesting since July over this deadly outbreak. We lost thousands [of cows] even as the government refused to help us. So we released all our cows from our shelters,” Jagdish Solanki, the media coordinator of a federation of 180 cow shelters in Gujarat’s Banaskantha district, told VICE World News. Gujarat is one of the epicentres of the LSD outbreak. “Cops tried to stop us and send back our cows but we will return with them tomorrow.”
In videos shared by Solanki, caretakers are seen leading the cows to the highways by strewing feed on the roads. Solanki added that apart from releasing cows, hundreds of caretakers have shaved their heads and are planning to boycott upcoming state elections. Some protesters are also turning up with cow dung and urine, to dump them at government offices.
In India, where cows are considered sacred by the Hindu majority, so much is at stake. There’s a strict beef ban in 18 states, which is enforced by police, and punishable by hefty fines and jail terms of up to seven years. Hindu vigilante groups have also lynched minorities over mere suspicions of eating beef. Because it is illegal in many parts to slaughter cows, the animals are allowed to multiply and live out their days in nonprofit cow shelters. The LSD outbreak, in this case, is potentially catastrophic. According to government estimates, 57,000 cows affected by LSD have died across the country this year.
India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which imbibes a Hindu nationalist ideology, subsidizes the care of cows. The government has spent close to $152 million since 2017 to set up shelters for abandoned cattle. In Gujarat, $61 million was allocated this year to maintain shelters for cows and other animals. Solanki is among tens of thousands of protesters in the state who have been demanding the government to release financial aid from this budget.
“The government announced this budget in March this year, but kept delaying it,” said Solanki. “Recently, we found out through the Right to Information petition that they’ve not even made the regulation to implement it. We’re losing thousands of our cows every day. We are prepared to carry on with our protest until our demands are met.”
Even though over 70 people have been detained for cow-bombing the last few days, thousands aim to take their protest to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who’ll be visiting Gujarat, his home state, on September 29 and 30.
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