Cows are to be housed in already overcrowded prisons in northern India as part of a drive to improve protection of the animal considered holy by the country’s majority Hindu community.
Prisoners in jails in northern Uttar Pradesh state will help look after the cattle, wihch will have their own shelters erected, under the plans announced at the weekend.
“We have manpower and most jails have adequate land to set up gaushalas (cow shelters),” provincial jails minister Jai Kumar Singh declared in India’s most populous state.
“Our plan is to run them with a little grant from the government and utilise assistance from social workers and citizens,” he added.
State officials said inmates in 12 jails across the state would be entrusted with feeding and milking the cows, in addition to performing their routine chores.
They said the scheme to house cows inside jails was mooted at the insistence of state chief minister Yogi Adityanath, from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), known for his religious beliefs and zeal in protecting cows.
Soon after assuming office in late 2016, Mr Adityanath repeatedly emphasised the need for cow protection, and how important this is for his administration and that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s federal BJP government.
But officials said the state’s prisons are overcrowded and in no position to house cow shelters.
According to the National Crime Record Bureau the states jails had 69 per cent more prisoners than they could accommodate and only two-third of the staff needed to manage the inmates.
But few are willing to be publicly critical of Mr Adityanath’s cow protection schemes.
Last December his government had approved the establishment of Cow Protection Committees in each of the state’s 75 districts at great expense, to preserve the animals until they died naturally.
And last year, it had launched a cow ambulance service and circulated a free telephone number to assist the authorities in rescuing cattle in distress, in a state that badly lacks basic medical facilities for its largely indigent population of over 200 million.
Each of the ambulances that are part of the Cattle Healing Mobile Van Service are staffed with an animal paramedic and authorised to initiate legal action against those who abandon their cows once they stop providing milk.
Uttar Pradesh is India’s second province after neighbouring Haryana to house cows in jails.
India’s obsessive cow protection drive received an impetus under Mr Modi’s BJP administration, which came to office in May 2014 following general elections.
It has banned cow slaughter for beef, and most of the 21 of 29 Indian provinces ruled by BJP governments have introduced legal measures to protect the animal.
In Mr Modi’s western home state of Gujarat and Haryana, for instance, cow slaughter is punishable with imprisonment of up to 14 years. However, it has meant thousands of havens have had to spring up in India for abandoned, sick, and unproductive cows who would have otherwise been slaughtered.
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