“It isn’t difficult to sell a cow hide here,” a Dalit man tells me, bent over the carcass. The small field in which he stands is just off the main road, hidden by a thicket of wiry trees. The smell is overwhelming. Dogs prowl around, waiting for the skinless carcass to be abandoned. The man stands up, his white shirt unblemished from the messy work. My fixer taps my shoulder: “We need to go, it isn’t safe to be here for very long.”
The cow died the night before, hit by a car on the unlit roads of the outskirts of Kanpur. In the morning, someone from the Hindu neighborhood where the cow’s body was found called a government agency who sent the Dalit man to remove the body. Dalits are traditionally the caste responsible for the handling of dead animals. In Kanpur, a city in the north of India, the government employs them in waste management and roadkill clean-up. They skin the animals in private fields and sell the hides to local tanneries.