FRESH FROM THE FARM: PART 2
Tom-tommed as the backbone of the rural economy, farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to take care of their cattle.
A couple of years ago, a senior ophthalmologist residing in my locality got up as usual for his regular early morning walk. His wife, a physician at a local government health outpost, was also getting ready. It was 4:00 am.
He put on the light of his portico and opened the door. From his main door to the gate it was just a few feet. As he opened the main gate, two persons suddenly barged in and literally pounced upon him. They were wielding swords.
“Go back into your house!” they warned in menacing tones.
The good ophthalmologist was still rubbing his eyes. From the haze, he could see a Maruti Omni van on the road in front of his house. There were two-three more people. They were loading a cow into the vehicle.
He went inside and tried to peep out from his window. The operation was quick, the men jumped into the van and they drove away.
In the local Tulu lingo, they were petta kandunakulu (roughly translated as those who steal cows)—or cattle rustlers—common in the coastal areas. Many communal flare-ups occur because of this issue.
Later that evening, our colony’s residents’ association life president, a Muslim businessman, the secretary and a few other people met. The situation was this: The cows from the adjoining village are left to graze in our colony without anyone to mind them.
Every individual had his own, yet similar, story to say. In the darkness, between late night and early morning, people in a van or a car or a tempo used to come, inject a sleeping cow with some drug, and once it becomes unconscious—usually in a couple of minutes—load it into the vehicle and whisk it away. Everything was done in an eerily quiet manner. On occasion, such thefts took place in the afternoons, when the men were away at work, housewives having their siesta and the streets generally deserted.
This writer was among those colony members, one the ophthalmologist already mentioned above, two others retired senior bankers, one a businessman, one a school headmaster, and, yet another a surgeon in a major multi-speciality hospital. We walked down to the old houses in the village, a few yards away, and spoke to them.
After about an hour or so of discussions, they promised that they will take care of the animals “from now on”.
Yet, the story continued. And it still continues.
The businessman, a popular social worker in the area, went to the nearby Manipal police station along with a couple of other residents. The police admitted that cattle rustling was a major issue and assured him that they were “looking into it”.
But all knew that the police were hand-in-glove with the thieves. There were police barricades three-four kms either way on National Highway 169A abutting our village, and the rustlers cannot move even without a cursory check.
Two weeks ago, a similar incident took place from with the premises of 1000-year-old Shri Mahalalingeshwara temple in Parkala. The entire operation was caught on the temple’s security camera and telecast by a local cable TV channel.
Now a protest march is planned for Sunday, June 5, 2015 from Parkala to Manipal police station, led by Mr Srinivas Upadhya, the managing trustee of the temple.
This writer spoke to many villagers, mostly farmers and separately, their wives, in the nearby areas.
Living a couple of hundred metres away from my house, Sulochana Shetty, 55, is the real head of her household. Her father-in-law is very old and cannot do any work. Her husband is an autorickshaw driver. They have a three-acre farm, on which they grow mostly rice.
Sulochana also has three children, all grown up and educated. One son has got a job in Mumbai, another is doing his 3-year diploma course in a polytechnic and the third is still in school. There are other relatives in the extended family staying with them.
They have two cow-sheds and possess several cows.
Sulochana is also the president of the local dairy cooperative. Every morning and evening, she heats up gruel for the cows, feeds them, milks them and frees them to graze in the nearby areas; she later leaves for the diary office, a few kilometers away, to sell the milk and talk to others of her ilk.
In between, she has to do the household chores, look after the paddy fields, organise labourers during the two harvesting seasons, since it is all manual work.
As we have a large compound and we find it difficult to maintain it—removing the weeds, overgrown grass, fallen leaves and so on—Sulochana leaves a couple of cows with us, especially when they are pregnant. She will come and tie the cows inside our compound. In the evening, she comes and collects them.
She knows that we love cows: All of us, my wife, son, daughter and, of course, myself. My daughter has also given them names: Kaveri and Gowri, based on their colours.
Sulochana knows that we will take good care of them.
That was until a year ago when I fell ill seriously. Due to hospitalization and other issues, we could not take care of the cows. Recently, the cows came back. On their own!
But Sulochana’s reason for leaving the cows was not that there was enough grass in our compound nor the fact that I also ran a “cow wash”. (She sparsely gets any time to bathe or clean them…)
It was her fear that her milch cows would be whisked away by the cattle thieves…..
But cattle thieves were not the only issue faced by the villagers. By itself, taking care of cattle has become a cumbersome chore.
A few days ago, I travelled by train from Udupi Mumbai and back on the scenic Konkan Railway route, about 150 km away, in the beautiful monsoon season.
The fields along the railway tracks for miles and miles around were being readied for harvesting. I could see the farmerfolk—women included—going about their work. Some were repairing the bunds, some spreading fertilizers, yet a few ploughing their fields.
What struck me later was that at only just one or two places I saw cattle being for ploughing. At all other places, it was a mechanical, hand-operated tractor, as they call it, at work!
And, the second thing that struck me was that most of these people were middle-aged or above.
The same thing was seen in the villages and hamlets in my neighborhood also.
I spoke to another farmer who has about six acres about a couple of minutes from my house some time back. They were once famous for possessing some of the finest stock of cows in the area. However, while having his fill at a local bar after a day’s hard work one night, he told me that he had to desert his cattle, one by one. In the middle of the night, he would take a head of cattle, leave it in nearby Manipal city, and return.
“What to do? I am growing old, my wife is also not keeping well. Our children go out and they find it below their dignity to taking care of the cattle,” Ramdas Nayak told me.
Besides, they are ‘educated’. They rarely come to help in the fields, even at the time of sowing or during harvest. “They don’t want to their hands to get dirty,” he lamented.
Even though Nayak’s fields are next to River Swarna, they are dependent only on the monsoon. The reason is during summers, the water turns salty as sea water comes in with the tide.
“Earlier, we used to have at least two cycles of paddy, but nowadays we barely manage one,” he said, sipping his ambrosia.
One of his ‘educated’ sons—‘only’ 12th fail—is now driving an autorickshaw. His day-long earnings are spent in the same watering hole along with his friends.
Coming back to the cattle, when one of Sulochana’s cow gave birth to a male progeny, she was dejected. The cows give milk, the bulls are of no use, and they are abandoned to their fate.
And, they say, cattle is the backbone of our rural economy!
(This is the 2nd part of the series, Fresh From the Farm. More to follow…)