At Gidwaha Community Centre in UP, Cows Are Spotted More Often Than People

A centre that came into existence as a space to address community issues, where the panchayat members could hold meetings, is now doubling up as an animal shelter with an increase in cow-traffic.

Gidwaha (Lalitpur, UP): It’s almost a poetic name, even if it’s generic. Samudayik Milan Kendra.

Or the Community Meeting Centre – a designated space, usually a small building, in a village where meetings and discussions can be held. Usually called to order by the sarpanch or the pradhan, issues pertaining to the village can be discussed at the community meeting centre, be it development related, or interpersonal conflicts.

In Gidwaha, a village with a population of 2,700, located in Lalitpur district, Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh, however, the Samudayik Milan Kendra is in a derelict state, its creaking and crumbling walls, the very picture of despair.

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Constructed approximately 25 years ago, the centre had been functional in the early years, some of Gidwaha’s elderly populace confirmed. For at least a year or so. However, it now lies completely defunct, in shambles, extremely unclean and emanating a rotten smell constantly. It is the cause not just of plain discomfort, but illness – Gidwaha’s residents often fall sick due to the exposed muck and debris lying in the centre that has got toxic over time. 

As Nandlal, the local kirana shop owner says, “There’s a market here and much hustle bustle around. People come and go. They use this centre as they please.” Which usually translates as “shauchalay (toilet)”, adds Nandlal. “I’ve never ever seen a sanitation worker around here. People do their business in there and leave. This has been going on for long.”

While that explains the stench, we also learn that it’s not just human faeces that’s the cause. The centre came into existence as a space to address community issues, where the panchayat members could hold meetings. But Gidwaha’s four-legged beings are often spotted here, more than the local residents. It has been doubling up as an animal shelter quite frequently, especially in the last few months this year – the Adityanath government’s directives on cow slaughter have, no doubt, a few definite links with this curious phenomenon.

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As farmers in Chitrakoot had raised the issue of increased cow-traffic in their farms which has caused crop damage and loss, “People are frightened of what might happen if they’re perceived as those sorts of people who are cruel to cows.” Gidwaha, with a largely Thakur populace, voted for the BJP last year and was witness to the chief minister recently inaugurating a vishal gaushala in Lalitpur too. Other places in UP, we’ve since learnt, also suggest original uses of meeting centres, with perhaps a more generous emphasis on the ‘milan’ part of the kendra. In Dewariya district, one community meeting centre, a hugely popular make-out spot, was at the centre of a few ripples earlier this month, when a few community members submitted a formal petition against it.

Meanwhile, Nandlal complains that the only time the centre does get a clean-up of some sort is when some official comes over for a visit or recce, “When the government officer’s visit is scheduled, then you should see how it’s cleaned. It is pretty thorough then.” This has happened a few times in the centre’s 25-year lifetime, we learn. Ram Singh who has a paan shop right across the centre, spends his entire day doing his best to shield himself from the filth and the odour. Some days are better, he sighs, perhaps alluding to the rare sarkari visits. Nandlal is scathing about the village pradhan Kashiram, “Oh, the pradhan? He doesn’t get anything done.” More specifically on the centre, he adds, “There isn’t even a gate. Forget everything else.”

When we go to meet Kashiram, he agrees with us almost too readily, “Of course it should be cleaned.” And how many times has he initiated a request for this, we ask? He pauses and replies slowly, “So far, not even once.” Almost suddenly realising the full import of the moment, he quickly adds, “Maybe twice. Yes, I’ve got it cleaned twice.” 

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Gidwaha Rajrani is clear, “We want clean surroundings. Isn’t that the basic minimum requirement anybody would have?”

The last meeting conducted here that she can recall was held here about four or five years ago. “But maybe it was earlier.”

Khabar Lahariya is a rural, video-first digital news organisation with an all-women network of reporters in eight districts of Uttar Pradesh.