Buffalo Commons, part 1
In my last weeks here I’ve become obsessed with the buffalo. They graze outside my window. Every night 2 liters of extra-creamy milk arrives in a large can strapped to the back of a bicycle, then gets poured bfar young man from a silo-shaped can into my pot. The buffalo, being water buffalo, also connect to the water picture here in plenty of ways. Here are some of those connections, paraphrased from interviews I’ve done over the last weeks.
The very first house I visited in Hubli was a household that kept buffalo, and their water bill was roughly double that of their neighbors. Weeks later, in Dharwad, this point came up in an interview with a neighborhood activist in a low-income 24/7 zone, who gave both political and economic arguments against the 24/7 water regime. While the service had improved, he objected to the idea of paying for water. “We should follow the rule of Gandhiji–for salt and for water we will not pay,” he said. On the economic side, he brought up the case of buffalo-keepers.
The people who suffer the most are the people with animals, he said. Now they use the corporation water not only for the buffalos to drink, but also for washing the buffalos. They used to wash the buffalos in a lake, but the lake was turned into an extension [ development]. Then they used the borewell water to wash the buffalos–they have to do it daily–but with 24/7 the borewells all got shut down. So now people use corporation water, and their bill is 1000-2000 Rp per month. Very few people are paying their bills because they can’t afford to. Or people are choosing between washing their buffalo and some other use of water.
I decided to interview another family, one that keeps buffalo in an area that gets water every 5 days. They have two buffalo adults and two calfs, and their mother in law has more–12 total. Together, these buffalo drink 500 L of water per day! Plus, they wash them a lot.
In the rainy season they wash the buffalo every 2 days. In the summer (dry season) they wash them twice a day. I ask if this is because the buffalo get hot. No, it’s because they provide milk every day, and they need to keep the buffalo clean so the milk stays clean. They can’t sell milk that smells like dirty buffalo.
It takes 2 buckets of water to wash each buffalo. These are big, 50-L buckets. Water for buffalo drinking and washing comes from nearby corporation borewell tank or tap. If they have to wash more than 2 buffalo they take them to the borewell tank and tie them to a tree, then wash them there with buckets. They use 50 kodas (800 L) per day for washing the buffalo.
On a different day, I interview two men (father and son) who live in a big house on the end of the new development where I live. In the course of a conversation about water conservation, they bring up buffalo-keeping as a very water-intensive activity, especially if there are no lakes for the buffalo to swim in. They tell me that there used to be lots of lakes and ponds–10-12 lakes around Dharwad alone. “Keri” means lake in Kannada, and many dry areas do bear this name. These lakes are where people would go to wash buffalo, clothes, cars. Then, from ’91 to ’98, there was a drought. In this area, the deep water table dropped 200 feet. Many lakes dried up. Then the corporation aquired the land (that ‘s what my notes say, but it could be that the corporation owned the land, then sold it to private developers, or that the common was simply sold off). The lake was filled in, the stream that fed it diverted into the concrete channel that runs by our house, and houses built in the flat former lake bed. The words they used were “deveopers have blocked catchment areas with buildings–there’s less catchment to feed the ponds and they have diverted the water that would flow into them.” They also emphasize that the old lakes, and pastures adjoining them, were commons, “not privatization”. The urbanization started in the early 1980s according to the older man.
Dharwad used to be a very famous buffalo breeding ground, they tell me. Before their subdivision was there, you used to see 800 buffalo come down to the pond every day for their bath. There are still maybe 100 a day, but no bath, just short grass and a drain to vault over. There are still some pastures in theis area, rural remnants amidst the gaudy concrete mansions. These, too, are contested–the commoners fighting for their pastures against developers who want more mansions. Once the extensions (subdivisions) come in their wastewater (“seepage”) fouls the lakes. “The seepage has destroyed the lake’s beauty”. Other lakes tell a similar story. Now there’s nowhere people can wash the buffalo, and many people who have them in their house have nowhere to graze them.
No, some of the lakes are being “restored” into public parks for recreation only. No washing bathing, or buffalo permitted, and a 5 rupee entrance charge to keep away the poor.
Back at the buffalo-owner’s house, I ask how the development my neighbors mentioned, and the closure of the lakes, is affecting their buffalo-based livelihood. The man tells me they used to go to Salvan Keri (a lake nearby) every day during the summer. Now it is closed, turned into a park, so they go to Kelgeri (another lake, a little farther away). They rent land there, a forest area, to graze buffalos. The corporation is planning to close Kelgeri for buffalo bathing and clothes washing.
Near Selvan Keri the gov built a public tank and borewell for the buffalo, so they have a place to drink / wash them outside the park. The grazing lands there are gone, however, and grazing land elsewhere in the Dharwad area is becoming extremely scarce.
The area they rent now is police department land. They went in on the grazing contract with 6 other poeple, and bid on it at auction. They pay 15,000 to 20,000 rupees per year. This year the PD said they can only graze until December, after that they are building a new police training school and barracks.
So this family is going to sell their buffalos and build a new home. They want to get out of the buffalo business. There’s no food for buffalos now. It’s more costly to bid on grazing land because everyone is building new apartments. I ask if he thinks grazing and dairy are dying out in the city. Whoever has their own land will keep buffalos. Others will get rid of them. Is water a factgor in decision? I ask. No problem with water. The problem is land. 1 buffalo has to roam for 4 to 6 hours, and walk 6 km, to get enough to eat. Since there’s no more grazing land nearby, they have to go farther for pasture. The only land they could lease next year is 20 km from their house. The buffalo and herders will get too tired on the 40 km round trip.