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Why bone collectors in India live in fear

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Brijwasi Lal collects bone from animal carcasses to make a living

"Bone collectors" in the state of Uttar Pradesh, northern India, have been collecting the bones of animal carcasses for generations. But they have been living with fear since the government's repression against the cattle slaughter in 2017. The photographer Ankit Srinivas spoke with some of them.

"When people see us transporting bones, they simply assume that we work for slaughterhouses," says 55- a year of Brijwasi Lal.

Mr. Lal is one of the thousands of Dalits (formerly known as Untouchables) who make a living selling bones.

During the past year, several of them have said that they were attacked on suspicion of smuggling cows for slaughter. Mr. Lal also says that he has been threatened several times.

  • & # 39; Can kill us & # 39; Human cost of the & # 39; prohibition & # 39; of the meat of India
  • Is India banned from the slaughter of cattle & # 39; food fascism & # 39 ;?

Authorities in Uttar Pradesh closed many slaughterhouses after the Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata (BJP) won the state elections in March 2017. Cattle slaughter is already banned in some 18 states, but many of them started actively apply the ban after the BJP formed the federal government of India in 2014.

The party believes that the cows should be protected as they are considered sacred by the Indian majority population of India. But millions of Indians, including Dalits, Muslims and Christians, consume beef.

It is not clear exactly how many Dalits in Uttar Pradesh work as bone collectors, but they are located mainly in the cities of Allahabad, Kanpur and Gonda, near the factories that buy the bones and crush them into powder, which is then used for processing various chemical products.

"We only make 3-5 rupees ($ 0.04; £ 0.03) per kilogram of bones," says Mr. Lal. "It's not a very honorable job, but at least it feeds my family."

  Mr. Lal carries the bones in his cycle


Mr. Lal says the work has attracted threats recently

But Mr. Lal says he is now afraid because around a dozen people have been killed in recent years in the name of protecting cows. Most of the victims were Muslims, and they were often the target of rumors.

"We have to be very careful and that's why we started very early in the dark and finished our work before 10 a.m.," says Mr. Lal.

He adds that the work is especially difficult because of the stigma associated with it.

  Mr. Lal rummages through a pile of bones


Factories crush the bones to make a powder that is used to process chemicals

"We are Dalits, so anyway we are not respected by most people," says Mr. Lal. "And with this work, we become untouchable in the true sense, people avoid our path when they see us walking down the road."

Despite laws to protect them, discrimination remains a daily reality for India's 200 million dalits. [19659005] "You could never imagine the smell of rotten meat, people think we're used to it but we're not, it's just that we have no other choice."

Sugreev, who does not want to reveal his last name, says that work requires a lot of physical and mental strength.

  Sugreev takes an animal skull

Legend of the image

Sugreev says that work requires a lot of resistance

"We usually walk 45 km (27 miles) in search of dead animals, people also call us when animals die in their homes, it's not a decent job, people do not even offer us water in their homes."

He says it is unfair considering the importance of his work. "Think about it, we play an important role in society: we remove animal carcasses from people's fields and houses, but nobody respects us"

  Sugreev shows an animal bone he has found


] Collecting animal bones is associated with stigma in India

He hopes that his children, who have also begun to collect bones, can eventually find another job.

"It seems difficult, they are not educated and no one will give them a job once they discover that they collect bones to make a living, but I want them to find something else."

Baisakhu, who also goes by his first name alone, accepts while leaving the collection of the day in a large and pestilent pile of bones.

"I know you are struggling to stand here, but this is what we have been doing for decades, I wish I could get another job, but who will use us?"

  Mr. Baisakhu carries animal bones in both hands


"We do not kill animals, we only collect their bones," says Mr. Baisakhu

He is also concerned about attacks on Muslims and Dalits by groups of cow guards.

"We do not kill animals," he says. "We only collect their bones when they die, but some people are ignorant and end up abusing us."

I've seen so many sick cows, often with wounds, I wish people really cared for cows instead of worrying. "

  The skull of an animal


"I wish I could get another job, but who will hire us?" "asks Mr. Baisakhu

The work, he adds, is exhausting: they walk for hours looking for corpses from which they can extract bones. Once they are found, they either carry them on their shoulders or transport them in their cycles.

Sometimes, they are injured but can not afford to go to a hospital because their income is scarce and sporadic.

"One day, I could find 50 kilos of bones to sell, but on another day, I could find as little as five kilos," says Mr. Baisakhu. "And some days, I do not get anything, there is no guarantee in this trade"

He often borrows money to feed his family of five.

  The skull of an animal lying in the grass


The work involves walking kilometers in search of corpses and bones

He adds that the threat of violence has only made his life more difficult. A few months ago, he says, he was heading home after a "morning bone harvest" when he was stopped by a group of men.

"I had a great casing in my cycle," he recalls. "They asked me if I killed a cow, I tried to tell them they were wrong, but they still mistreated me, and the incident still scares me every time I think about it."

Chotu, who only goes for the first time name, is one of the few who has left the profession. Now, he works as domestic help. But occasionally, when he needs the extra money, he also collects bones.

But hope you can stop doing it altogether soon.

  Chotu carries animal bones

Legend of the image

Chotu has another job but collects bones to get extra money

"What is the use of doing a job that people do not understand? We are cleaning the environment, but everything we receive in return is insult and threats.

" Is it so difficult to treat us with dignity? "

Ankit Srinivas is an independent photographer based in Allahabad.

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