What are the battles in India

Religion: After the ban on slaughter: India suffers from a huge cow plague

In the middle of January all the cows should have been in the barn: At least that's what Yogi Adityanath, the head of government of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, promised. Instead, the cows are everywhere: on motorways, under bridges, in front of offices and government buildings. The stray animals disrupt traffic, cause accidents, devastate fields and devour grain, sugar cane and potatoes in India's most populous state.

Nobody knows exactly how many abandoned animals are now walking around freely. It is estimated that there are around 20 million cows in the state. After the government issued a ban on slaughtering animals that are sacred to Hindus, but the promised sanctuaries are largely missing, the state experiences a real cow plague.

Farmers simply tie up cows somewhere

In order to score points with his Hindu voter base, Prime Minister Mahant Adityanath, himself a radical Hindu priest, issued an absolute ban on slaughter in 2017. Non-dairy animals are now simply releasing farmers or tying them up somewhere to keep them out of their fields.

The government has introduced a cow tax of 0.5 percent on alcohol and road tolls, as well as a one percent tax on the proceeds from the sale of fruit, vegetables and grain at the wholesale market. The tax revenue is to be used to build “old people's homes” for cows that are no longer allowed to be slaughtered. But the authorities apparently underestimated the sheer number of animals in need. The latest idea is now to provide all abandoned animals with a barcode and to accommodate them in unused buildings. Farmers who simply abandon their animals should also be severely punished.

The cows in India are hungry

Earlier this week, a group of angry farmers drove 35 cows to a state school near the city of Agra. In the small town of Radha Kund, the farmers brought the crematorium to a standstill by locking up 50 cattle there. Hospitals have also been ravaged by angry farmers and their cows. Many farmers spend their nights on cow watch to protect their fields from the hungry intruders. "We can't feed unproductive cows," explained Surendera Pandey, another farmer. He used to get 10,000 rupees (around 120 euros) for an old cow and was able to finance the purchase of a new cow.

The cow issue is very politically charged. The issue of cow protection has grown in importance since India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a devout Hindu, won a huge victory with his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014. Many see the alleged animal welfare as a proxy war against minorities - especially Muslims and Dalits, former casteless people.

Both groups eat beef and work in the meat and leather processing industries. According to the human rights organization “Human Rights Watch”, at least ten people have been lynched since 2015 after they were accused of eating beef. The opera were Muslims or Dalits. Around 80 percent of India's population are Hindus, around 15 percent are Muslims, and Christians make up around two percent.