India's push to save its cows starves Bangladesh of beef
By Rupam Jain Nair and Ruma Paul
GHOJADANGA, India/DHAKA (Reuters) - Some 30,000 Indian soldiers guarding the border with Bangladesh have a new mandate under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government this year - stop cattle from crossing illegally into the Muslim-majority neighbor.
Roughly every other night, troops armed with bamboo sticks and ropes wade through jute and paddy fields and swim across ponds to chase aging bovines, and smugglers, headed for markets in Bangladesh.
The crackdown is one of the clearest signs yet of how Indian policies, increasingly influenced by Hindu nationalist ideology, are having an economic impact on neighboring countries as well as the sizeable Muslim minority at home.
About 2 million head of cattle are smuggled into Bangladesh annually from India. The $600 million-a-year trade has flourished over the past four decades and is considered legal by Dhaka.
Modi's government, which came to power with the help of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), wants to put an end to it.
Interior Minister Rajnath Singh traveled this spring to the frontier with Bangladesh, calling on India's Border Security Force to halt cattle smuggling completely so that the "people of Bangladesh give up eating beef", media reported at the time.
"Killing or smuggling a cow is equivalent to raping a Hindu girl or destroying a Hindu temple," said Jishnu Basu, an RSS spokesman in West Bengal, which shares a 2,216 km (1,375 miles) border with Bangladesh.