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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 6, January 31, 2015 - Republic Day Special

Travails of keeping Foreign Cows in Rural India!

Saturday 31 January 2015, by Barun Das Gupta


Book Discussion on ‘Inside-Outside: Two Views of Social Change in Rural India’ by Baburao Shravan Baviskar and D.W. Attwood (Discussants: A.M. Shah, Anand Chakravarti, Partha Nath Mukherji, Tulsi Patel); pages: 40; Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi

This is actually not a book but a booklet containing opinions expressed by several social scientists during an interesting discussion on the above-named book by Baburao Shravan Baviskar, an economist by training but a sociologist by choice, and D.W. Attwood, a cultural anthropologist and a Canadian by birth, from the USA. They were fated to undertake a study of the sugar cooperatives of Maharashtra in the 1960s—in Kopargaon by Baviskar and in Malegaon and Supe by Attwood.

Baviskar was an ‘insider’ by birth, while Attwood was an ‘outsider’ who came from a distant land. The above book is the outcome of the extensive field-work they had carried on and their interactions on the meaning and import of what their study led them to. Sometimes their views converge, sometimes they diverge but there is an underlying unity of approach and understanding.

Their study revealed many interesting facts. There is an amusing story on distribution of Canadian cows that brings out the ignorance of the city-bred and city-living bosses who want to help the rural people increase their incomes and improve their standard of living. The story deserves to be quoted in full. The National Dairy Development Board was being run by the great Verghese Kurien who became famous for his Operation Flood. Now let us hear the story:

“Operation Flood had acquired a great reputation abroad, and many countries sought to contribute aid. Around 1977, The Canadian Government decided to donate 250 Holstein-Friesian cows to the NDFB. Under NDFB supervision, these cows would be given to Gujarati farmers, who would be trained to look after them. If this project worked, other Western countries would also be keen to donate cows.

“Amul organised the distribution of these cows in Kheda district. Much publicity was given to the high milk yields and incomes to be obtained from the Canadian cows. It was decided to auction them to the farmers. In order to distribute benefits widely, each farmer could get only one or two cows. Moreover, the farmer must have adequate and healthy space, a good supply of fodder, and enough labour to look after the special needs of these cows. On average, the cows were auctioned for about Rs 7000 each. (At that time, a good Indian cow cost at the most Rs 500 to 800.)

“Alas, many farmers found that these cows suffered from the hot climate. Amul had set up a special veterinary service, supported by advice from extension officers, to keep the cows healthy. But in many cases, this did not suffice. The cows were not happy, and their milk yields did not meet expectations. After a while, the farmers wanted to return these cows. Of course, Amul refused. If they took back one or two cows, then many other farmers would demand the same, and the whole project would fail. The NDFB and Amul were keen to avoid any taint of failure.

“When their individual complaints were not taken seriously, the farmers organised the Association of Owners of Imported Canadian Cows, which lobbied Amul to take back the cows and compensate the farmers for their losses. When Amul and NDFB did not respond, the Association devised a new strategy.

“It so happened that the only daughter of the powerful chairman of NDFB, Verghese Kurien, was getting married in 1980. The members of the Association announced to the press that they would donate these 250 cows to the chairman’s daughter as a part of her dowry. Her wedding would be a big affair with lots of dignitaries in attendance. The Association announced that, since Kurien was an elder brother to them, his daughter’s wedding was like their own daughter’s wedding. They would like to give all these cows as kanyadan (the gift to a daughter at the time of her wedding). The Association announced that they would take these 250 cows in a procession to the wedding reception and present them to Kurien’s daughter.

“This news alarmed Kurien and the NDFB. The procession would make these cows a public joke. At once, they called the Association leaders and started negotiation. The night before the wedding, an agreement was reached: those who were not satisfied with their Canadian cows could return them and receive compensation. After that nobody has shown further interest in bringing foreign cows to India.”

This story reveals the ignorance of the benefactors as to how their schemes to improve the lot of village people often lead to fiasco, failure and avoidable losses.

Baviskar and Attwood found that cooperative sugar factories had mutually benefited the farmers and the industrialists. But they also found that the sugar cooperative movement which had started off well and got established became a prey to corruption and black money generation, vitiating the vibrant health of the cooperatives. Each factory was found to be closely identified with powerful political leaders.

The book should whet the appetite of the reader to read the original book of 451 pages, jointly written by Baviskar and Attwood. They also found that there was no basic antagonism or incompatibility in the approaches between an ‘insider’ and an ‘outsider’. Together, they make an organic and synthetic whole.

The reviewer was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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