No Milk Today (And For the Last 55,000 Days)

The village of Chaura in Jharkhand, India, boasts a nice herd of cows. Each family owns at least two of the bovines. Almost anywhere in the world that means a steady supply of milk, but Chaura is different. For a century and a half, maybe longer, no one has dared milk the local cows. The villagers love milk, but they trek back and forth to buy it from neighboring hamlets.

Why? It’s on the advice of a 19th-century Hindu priest, says one of the elders, Kunaram Hansda, 70.

“My father used to say a priest had warned the villagers not to milk the cows,” he said, adding, “Those who dare to defy the diktat suffer physically and mentally.”

Local lore has it that some ancestors had killed two black cats for sneaking up to their kitchens and emptying the milk pots. Days later, several villagers fell sick as “the cats’ spirits” lay a curse on the village. Thereafter, goes the story, anyone consuming the milk of their cows would fall ill.

Some say that Chaura’s cows will only produce cursed milk that turns red, but no one has apparently dared put the claim to the test for generations.

If the liquid did turn out to have a reddish tint, there would be a good explanation — and the spirits of dead cats have nothing to do with it.

Dr Manoj Tiwary, veterinary physician and junior research officer at the Institute of Animal Health and Production (IAHP), Ranchi, said, “These cows might be suffering from Mastitis disease due to which blood sometimes mixes with the milk, giving it a reddish colour. It’s a bacterial disease and prone to be contagious. But [the reason] would be clear only after a proper examination of the cows.”

For now, the 150-odd families of Chaura will just continue to buy their milk elsewhere, spending their meager resources on something they could produce themselves, and enriching their neighbors in nearby villages.