By Abhimanyu Singh Chauhan
Minister for Urban Development, M Venkaiah Naidu announced earlier this year, the first list of 20 cities to be developed as Smart Cities, and Bhubaneswar in Odisha was right on top of that list. With Information Technology majors like Wipro, Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services and Infinity already having offices here, the “smartness” tag seems spot on. But only till you move less than 500 metres away from some of these glitzy offices, to what are the “peri urban areas” which lie right on the outskirts of the city. Nowhere do the trappings of city life seem evident in these dismal poverty stricken settings and they are most certainly not on the radar of any of the town planners or government departments, that are quick to dismiss them as “no man’s land”.
Well, they do have electricity and water and a stray household may even have a television or radio. But, what each household unfailingly has, is cattle. Ranging from 3- 10 cows and buffaloes, every family sells milk and poultry to make ends meet. Mukhiya Chatembar Bhoi and his wife moved to Patwar Gadia village in Mahima Nagar, on the outskirts of Bhubaneshwar (one of the five project sites for the PERIMILK study) 12 years ago. They are one of 127 households that live in this sparse and stark community. Like the others, their primary vocation is contractual labour. Dairying is a side activity that fetches them a little extra income. For many, it is an ancestral vocation and just because their forefathers had cows tied in the courtyard, is reason enough for them to maintain the family tradition. Never mind if they know barely nothing about animal disease, antibiotic use, warning signs, zoonoses or even milking for that matter.
Very low threshold for risk taking
While most peri-urban farms in the country have similar social and economic characteristics, the nature of these peri-urban farms in Odisha have a slightly different “business model”. Their dependence on Ramchander Behara, a middleman who has been coming to their homes for years, is complete. He comes, milks the cows, puts it in his cans and takes it to sell. His day starts at 4am and once he has completed milking his large entourage of 17 cows, he heads out to this peri urban setting where he has a “tie-up” with 117 homes. He spends 6am to 11am, going from one hut to another, to milk the cows and hand over on an average Rs200-500 to each household, depending on how much milk he has been able to get. The “dairy farmers” if one may call them that, are not really concerned to whom he sells and for how much. So long as he gives them Rs25 a litre, they accept it uncomplainingly and even gratefully.
Native wisdom and experience makes a man a messiah
Ramchander has over the years gained a lot of knowledge about animal behaviour. He considers himself part vet and part healer. He can treat common problems like the animal’s infected. He is also familiar with signs of saliva frothing, knots, fever, foot and mouth disease. However, he has neither heard of zoonoses nor bovine tuberculosis. With dairy farmers in this peri urban setting not even having a mobile phone, he is but naturally, their saviour when it comes to getting help for their sick animal. Either he treats the animal or calls a private vet with whom he has a “good setting”. These are mostly private vets. According to him, government vets take very long to come, so their reliance on a private vet is much more. Many government vets after their retirement take the private route.
Not governments and doctors, but fate and God hold the key to health and life itself
The dairy farmers realise how unwell the cattle is when it starts shivering, has fever, is not eating, or is sleeping a lot. They believe in traditional therapies. Other than that they rely on Behara and the doctors he brings in. When an animal dies which is often enough, there is a sense of resignation to their and the cattle’s fate. They are not aware of any scheme, camp or free medicine. They don’t know who to complain to and they also do not have the time. They have to report to the farms where they are hired as contract labour.
Most of their challenges, therefore are not related to getting good prices or customers but to ensuring that their cattle remains healthy and is fit enough for Behara to keep coming to their doorstep. Since the milk collection centre is far and they have neither vehicles nor the time to go and attempt selling, engaged as they are with the daily wage work, they are resigned to letting the middleman make some profit, which they see more as a “service charge”. In any case the money from the sale of milk is not enough to keep their home and hearth running. At best, it provides them with milk for their own consumption and some extra money for overhead expenses. Even the chara or fodder for their animals is not funded by this income. They get the same from the farms they work in.
No one in this community buys cattle. They rely on their own cows to breed and although are aware that in many cases their sickly cows will give birth to sickly calves, they shrug their shoulders and look heavenwards saying, they have no choice but to accept His will. And that is perhaps the smartest thing these poor, uneducated, simple village folk can do!
Abhimanyu Singh Chauhan is a Qualitative Researcher with PHFI/RCZI and is based out of New Delhi.