Upholding their faith & making a living

“You know very well how much we love and care our Gao Mata (cow), which is an integral part of our religion,” says, Jay Ram Das, the caretaker of Sri Kirshan Gao Shala (a home for cows), Sukkur.

While narrating the story of his love and respect for the cows, which have been kept in the Gao Shala, Jay Ram explains that they serve the dual purpose of worship and selling their milk to meet day to day expenses of the Gao Shala.

Jay Ram is in the business of dry dates in Sukkur’s Agha Qadirdad Khan Date Market and along with this, he has been volunteering as a caretaker of the Gao Shala for the last 15 years because according to him, good deeds always pay back.

“Keeping the religion aside, as a human being it is our duty to be good to human beings and animals,” he says. “But in our religion many animals have a special place, which also includes our Gao Mata.”

Talking about the establishment of Gao Shala he said, when I took over as caretaker 15 years back,

When Jay Ram first took over as caretaker of the Gao Shala, there used to be a 93-year-old milkman named Ghazi who used to work there. Ghazi began working in the Gao Shala when he was 10 years old. Ghazi retired from the Gao Shala where he was about 98 years old, having served it for nearly 88 years.

The Gao Shala itself was established in Sukkur in 1925 and since then the Hindu community has taking care of it and the cows too that are kept there. “At that time, there was very thin population in Sukkur and there was ample empty grassy grounds available in the city, where our cows were taken for grazing.”

There used to also be a graveyard for the cows near the Lab-e-Mehran, where the cows were buried after they died. “As the city went on developing and so did its population, there was no longer any ground left grazing ground have been left for the animals,” he said. “Now we keep our cows confined to the Gao Shala, where they are provided with fodder and water.”

Now the dead cows are given to the river, which according to Hindu custom is called the process of ‘Darya Parwaan’. For this purpose, a small truck is hired, which is used to shift the dead cow to the river, where it is once again shifted to a boat and then deep into the water, behind the Hindu temple Sadh Belo, the cow is handed over to the Darya Badshah (King River). This is the final journey of the Gao Mata.

At present there are more than 300 cows, out of which some are too old to milk, while some are ailing due to one reason or another. “We have a separate enclosure for the ailing cows and calves, besides another enclosure for the male cows,” he informed.

The milk is sold to regular customers and Jay Ram insists that no type of hormone or water is mixed in the milk. “This is why our customers are happy with us because elsewhere the practice of adding water or other hormones is quite common,” he said. “When the customer is paying a price for the commodity, then it is our duty to provide a pure product in exchange for their money.”

During the day and night the cows are kept in separate shelters and are only moved to the milking shelter at the time of milking. There were more than ten milkmen and other persons, who were providing fodder and water to the cows before milking and then only afterwards does the job of milkmen begins, who milk all the cows one after another.

One of the milkmen Bheeman, while talking to the Express Tribune, said that he has been working in the Gao Shala for more than 10 years. According to him, apart from per month salary of Rs15,000, the Gao Shala administration has provided the milkmen with free boarding and lodging in the premises.

“Working here is like killing two birds with one stone. On one hand we are earning respectable livelihood, while on the other serving our Gao Mata,” he says.

Another milkman Hari, who has been working here for lmore than 25 years, said that first all the milkmen let the calves to drink milk and when they are done, only afterwards the milking is begun. “In this way, the cows very happily allow us to milk them,” he said.

One of the calves died a couple of days ago and his mother was not allowing them to milk her, however, the milkmen handled her with such love and tenderness that eventually she relented. “Like human being, animals also respond good to people who love and care for them,” he said.

On average, a cow gives around five to seven liters of milk, which is sold for Rs120 per liter. “The cows are also provided with the best food available in the market, which is why our cows give more milk as compared to the other cattle pens,” he added.

Lots of people visit the Gao Shala to worship the Gao Mata. Most of the visitors either give donation in cash or in the shape of fodder for the cows. “As you can see, this Gao Shala is spread over a big area, therefore we provide charged parking in the premises to the people belonging to Hindu community and in return they pay whatever they can depending on their affordability,” said Jay Ram.

A donation box at the main gate of the Gao Shala, where the visitors put their donations. All the income either through selling milk or charged parking or donation box is spent on the cows and their caretakers, including, the watchman, milkmen and others.

A permanent vet named Sunil is also on the payroll of the Gao Shala, who visits twice or thrice a week and checks all the cows. To the old and weak cows, the vet injects Neurobeon.

According to Sunil, almost all the cows kept at the Gao Shala are in very good health as they are well tended to. According to him, this Gao Shala not only provides good food and income for the cows, but for the workers as well. “Not only this, but some poorest of the poor keep visiting the Gao Shala and believe me they earn around Rs,1000 or even more, as a charity from the well-off visitors, who not only donate for the fodder for the cows, but also to those poor people, with no means of income.”

For his part, the President of Hindu Panchayat Mukhi Eshwar Lal says that the Gao Shala is part of the Hindu religion and therefore they are kept up with extreme care.

To a question about rumours of the Hindu community making money by selling the milk of cows, President Lal refuted such claims and said that this perception is wrong. “Rather, whatever we earn through the sale of milk is spent on the upkeep of the cows,” he says.

According to him, the Gao Shala does not earn enough by selling the milk and therefore it asks for donations from well off people to meet its expenses. “This is not a business rather it is a service to our Gao Mata,” he said.

Sarfaraz Memon is a freelance writer. All information and facts provided are the sole responsibility of the writer.

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