On May 24th Southern Railway announced a “unique initiative”. It had decided to expand parcel traffic by commencing transportation of Livestock in parcel vans. As tweeted by Chief Commercial Manager, Southern Railway (@ccmsrly), “First Ever Transportation of 20 Cows in parcel vans by SR from Salem to Guwahati on 23/05 with earnings of Rs. 2.65 lakh“.

Southern Railways tweeting about ferrying cows

First Ever Transportion of 20 cows in parcel vans by SR from Salem to Guwahati on 23/05 with earings of Rs 2.65 lakh

The initiative to add livestock as a new class of freight, was expected to widen freight revenue. A senior official told New Indian Express that “they have made two bulk livestock transportation in the last two months. The first was of 20 cows from Villupuram to Shalimar in West Bengal. The latest was on Tuesday when another 20 cows were loaded at Salem, to be delivered at Guwahati in Assam, from where it would be transported by road to Meghalaya.

The Kochuveli-Guwahati Express left Salem on May 23rd with much fanfare. The animals were booked by a Noida based dairy farm and were on their way to a government dairy farm in Meghalaya. Needless to say, since it was a Railway initiative, the dairy employees had all the legal documents with them.

When the train reached, Bhubaneswar, enroute to Guwahati, it ran into self-proclaimed Gau Rakshaks allegedly of Bajrang Dal. A gang of over 25 vigilantes barged into the station, pulled the cattle out and assaulted the two dairy staff and the veterinarian travelling with them, accusing them of illegally transporting the cows. The station manager and the train driver were also attacked when they came to their rescue. They were finally rescued by the Government Railway Police and Railway Protection Force.

The video of the assault can be seen here.

The local paper, Sun Times of Bhubaneswar reported the incident as “Cattle trafficking: 20 cows rescued from train in Odisha capital” It talked of “activists” handing over the duo to police and three others including a veterinary doctor fleeing the spot in fear. As the horrors of the attack hit social media and the national press, it was clear that this was no “rescue” of illegally trafficked cattle but an attack on a perfectly legal transport of cows by Gau Rakshaks.

It is anyone’s guess as to how the information of the cows being transported in Kochuveli-Guwahati Express reached the vigilantes. The cows were flagged off by the Southern Railway and there must be arrangements along the way for them. The role of WhatsApp cannot be overlooked in relaying the information about cattle in this particular train.

The genie is out of the bottle. The national obsession with cattle protection has seen Gau Raksha Dals mushroom across the country with blessings of the local politicians. Odisha was so far untouched by cow vigilantes but this incident has shown that even a government initiative to enhance Railway revenues by livestock transport is not safe from this menace. As they say, you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbours.