New Delhi: Almost every week for a year now, Nathubhai Parmar from Surendranagar in Gujarat has been sending this reporter video clips of cattle carcasses being skinned by the charmakars.
"In the last video I sent you, the cow had more than 40 kg plastic in its stomach. This cow had even more plastic," he said.
Also called the Rohits, the charmakars are a Dalit community that traditionally handles the job.
In each video, Parmar zooms in to show kilos of plastic being extricated from the intestines of the dead cattle. "We Dalits are targeted and accused of cow-slaughter, we are beaten, sometimes even killed for just doing our job. Everyone saw what happened to our community members in Una. Now it's time to show the world who the real cattle killers are - all of you who dump plastic, you're the ones who should be jailed," he says.
Una, a village in Surendranagar district, is where on July 11, 2016, four Dalit men were brutally beaten with iron rods by upper-caste men who filmed the assault in a video that went viral across the country.
Una became a tipping point, leading to wide-scale protests not just in Gujarat but across the country.
The community of charmakars boycotted work, refusing to clear dead cattle and creating a crisis for the municipal corporations who begged them to return.
For Nathubai Parmar, the incident became a personal turning point. Parmar, by dint of his caste, was condemned to a profession that meant daily agony - of prejudice, violence and primitive working conditions that remain unchanged for decades.
Determined to drive change, he was drawn into Dalit activism and joined the Ahmedabad-based Navsarjan founded by Martin Mcewan, a respected organization that works for Dalit rights. In 2017, when Navsarjan's foreign funding was frozen, Parmar returned to his village to work independently, putting his own money in the Navnirman Sarvaijainik Trust which was set up in 2002.
"Una made it clear to me that this would be a fight till the end, at least my end. It wasn't just that my brothers were being beaten but that the men who did it were enjoying it and felt proud of it. I know you feel outraged but those images don't play in your mind each night. This is not your reality, this is mine and it needs to be changed. We were accused of cow-slaughter by those who can't even bear to go near the cow when she dies."
Parmar says he is determined to expose the hypocrisy of those who call Dalits cattle-slaughterers while abusing the cow in every way. He points to the starving and weak cattle in Gujarat's innumerable gaushalas - many backed by the state's Gauchar Board.
The lack of land for grazing is a key reason why not just strays but even cattle reared by their owners end up feeding in garbage dumps. "It's not uncommon to find 60-70 kg of plastic in the guts of cows. We know we use our bare hands to pull them out of the carcasses," said Parmar.
A year ago, Parmar created a life size model of a cow with its intestines spilling out. For a heavy dose of reality, he hung next to the model actual blood and flesh-soaked plastic that charmakars had peeled out from the tangled intestines of dead cattle.
He inaugurated the installation on December 12, his father's death anniversary, a tribute to a man who had from the age of 10 spent his life skinning cattle.
The Plastic Cow, as Parmar calls it, stands mounted on a platform with wheels -a mobile installation placed by the highway, midway between Wadhwan and Surendranagar and at the entrance to the Gautum Buddha Gau Sewa Ashram.
"Gujarat has innumerable gaushalas where everyone claims to worship the cow. Prayers don't do much for sick and hungry cows. We want our work to actually save cattle," he says on the ashram.
Parmar's installation and the stench from it has drawn media attention. Parmar chuckles as he says, "This plastic cow annoys so many people but they can't do anything about it. It smells far too foul for most people to even consider coming near it, but this is the smell that has eternally enveloped our lives."