Since 2014, cow vigilantism has seen a sharp rise in various parts of India. Given how integral cows are to the rural economy, attacks on cattle truck drivers have had a crushing effect on farmers and traders. PARI reports on such incidents from Maharashtra’s Pune and Satara districts

Babasaheb Londhe switched from farming to running a successful business transporting cattle. But after the Bharatiya Janta Party came to power in 2014, cow vigilantism began to rise in Maharashtra and Londhe’s business suffered serious losses. He now fears for his own safety and the safety of his drivers | PHOTO • PARTH M.N.

By Parth M.N.

Balasaheb Londhe never imagined a decision he made over 20 years ago would come back to haunt him today. Born to a family of marginal farmers in the small town of Fursungi in Maharashtra’s Pune district, Londhe started working in his farmland, where they mainly grew cotton, fairly early in his life. When he turned 18, he decided to double up as a driver for some extra income.

“A friend put me in touch with a Muslim family that ran a business of transporting livestock,” the 48-year-old says. “They needed drivers, so I signed up for it.”

Londhe was an enterprising young man who studied the business meticulously. After about a decade, Londhe felt like he had learnt and saved enough.

“I bought a second-hand truck for Rs. 8 lakh, and still had a capital of Rs. 2 lakh,” he says. “In 10 years, I had made contacts with farmers and traders in the market.”

Londhe’s enterprise paid off. It was his business that bailed him out when his five-acre farmland incurred losses due to falling crop prices, inflation and climate change.

The task was straightforward: pick up cattle from farmers who wanted to sell them at weekly bazaars in the village and sell it with commission to either a slaughterhouse or another set of farmers who wanted to procure livestock. In 2014, about a decade into his business, he bought a second truck to expand his trade.

After factoring in the cost of petrol, vehicle maintenance expenses and the driver’s salary, Londhe says his average monthly income hovered at around Rs. 1 lakh at that time. It didn’t matter that he was among the few Hindus to be in a trade dominated by the Muslim Qureshi community. “They were generous with their contacts and tips,” he says. “I thought I was set.”

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