Govardhan, 2011.10.02 (VT): I never knew that rice straw was bad for cows… but thousands of Brajvasis and farmers across north India burn tons of rice stalks after winnowing the grain because they believe it is. “As a matter of fact,” says Jugal Kishore Dasji, “enough rice straw is burned each year in Mathura district to feed half a million cows for an entire year!”
“When I found this out,” he says, “I knew I had to do something. Many farmers abandon their animals as soon as they become incapable of producing enough milk to make them economically viable. And these animals are dying of hunger, but not because there is no food. It is because all this rice straw is being burnt for no good reason.”So in 2006, he and a few of his farmer followers started the Chara Mahayajna, “the great cow-feed sacrifice”, an attempt to collect rice straw and give it to goshalas and other institutions for cow protection as feed.
This effort coincides this year with Karttik, when hundreds of volunteer farmers will descend on Vanshibat Seva Ashram in Govardhan, taking the ashram’s 14 tractors and renting another 30 or so to go and to gather the straw that has accumulated in village “banks” and distributing it to the goshalas across Braj.
In the first year, they collected 80 tractor trolleys of straw. This number has been increasing exponentially over the past five years and last year 6,299 trolley loads of straw were saved from the flames and given to the cows.
These are Indian trolleys, which means — if you have ever seen — the sides are expanded and raised with canvas structures to make them look like pregnant elephants.
The program has become more and more sophisticated with straw banks being set up in villages in Uttar Anchal, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Free food for the cows, and all because the villagers believe that it will harm the cows. “In fact,” Jugal Kishore told me, “when I first started the program, there were many people who threatened me because I was going to harm the mother cow.
“But in fact there are so many advantages to this program that farmers are even quite happy to give us the straw for nothing. The only thing is that they usually insist it be picked up as quickly as possible so they can get to planting their next crop.
“The thing is that when they burn the straw, it not only makes the soil hard but it also kills the worms and other life forms that give the soil a lot of its fertility. When the soil is hard, it is twice as hard to plow and plant. And of course, when the bacteria, worms and other microscopic life in the soil are killed, the crop yield is affected.
“Moreover, the reduction in air pollution from the burning is another big plus. Hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide less go into the atmosphere every year as a result of this effort.
“We now have straw banks in 18 villages, including Govardhan and Radha Kund. And last year we gave a year’s supply of straw to 47 different goshalas in Braj, including 18 in Vrindavan.”
I said that the goshalas are complaining about the rising cost of feed, but Jugal Kishore Dasji said that the price was actually being kept down by this program. “What is funny,” he noted, “is that in western Rajasthan and Gujarat, the farmers seem to think that wheat stalks are bad for cows and they want rice straw! So everyone is paying for something they could have for free! In fact, there is no scientific basis for the belief that rice straw is bad for cows, and that has been proved in the many goshalas that are using it.”
Since Jugal Kishore Dasji has already formed a network of farmers in villages far and wide across the north, he has no trouble attracting the some 1200 volunteers who participate in the Mahayajna. Coming from more than 100 different locations, they stay in the ashram for week-long shifts. The logistics are intense: feeding the volunteers as they work in numerous farflung locations is one major headache. The food is cooked in the ashram and then brought to the different teams wherever they are.
Jugal Kishore Dasji is understandably proud of what has been accomplished so far. “But,” he says, “our goal is to make sure there is not a single hungry cow in the district. What to speak of seeing any cows being taken to slaughter houses. You see, when cows are abandoned because they can’t be fed, they are picked up by marauding butchers who take them off for slaughter. No one is there to protest because the cow is unprotected. So this program helps to save these animals. We want all the cows to be healthy and happy, and that way we know that Krishna will be pleased.
“Actually, everyone is happy. The sky is happy because it is kept free of smoke. The earth is happy because it is not being scorched. The small creatures are happy because they aren’t being burned. The farmers are happy because there is less work for them. Villagers are happy because their crop yields increase. The cows are happy because they get to fill their bellies. The goshalas are happy because this helps to reduce their costs. So we think that we have found a really good seva that has a wide range of benefits!”
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact the Vanshibat Seva Ashram at 93199.91609 or vanshivat at yahoo.com. Jai Shri Radhe.
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