The Bad Shepherd of Sillamalai



The water wars are here. Though we’ve confronted him many times, the Bad Shepherd of Sillamalai continues to sneak his goats into our land in search of green. During the rains it wasn’t an issue–all the goat mommies were popping out springy babies by the basket full.

But not under agni natchattram, the star of fire.

“You have no right to graze your goats here without permission!” I had long ago given up politeness.

Village India Bad Shepherd 2

“What can I do? They come in by themselves.”

“Then send them out.” No answer. “Didn’t you hear me? Send them out! We need the grass for our cows. Would you like it if I came into your house and took your stuff the way you’re stealing ours?”

“Go ahead.”
“Out! Now!” “

The Bad Shepherd grumbled and whistled and clicked and grunted and the flock slowly moved through the hole he made in our cactus fence. They disappeared into the dusty evening. I knew he would return.

It came to a head when we were out of town and our workers had to confront him. They told us all about it upon our return.

“He was coming in every evening, even all the way up to the house. First we asked him nicely to leave, but that didn’t work. Then we shouted at him and called him all sorts of names, but he still kept coming. Finally he grabbed his machete and hacked off a branch in front of us.

“ ‘Next time, that will be your arm. You people don’t know who you’re dealing with. I’m a Goundar and you’re scum. I know each of you and where you live and when you go to town at night to pick up your kids from the study center. You keep pushing me and I will chop you, one piece at a time.’

Village India Bad Shepherd

“To make things worse, that night his men came in secret, chopped the irrigation hose and sliced the tether of one of the cows. We’re afraid to go out. Who knows what they will do when they’ve been drinking?”

I felt the chill of their words. To have one of our workers lose life or limb at the hands of a drunken goat herder would be horrific. You see photos of this sort of thing in the Tamil paper. And for what? Dried up mouthfuls of grass?

I also felt our own vulnerability. We had invested in land and built our home out in the country. Armed with liquor and hate, this man could chop us too.  And if we reported him to the police and they beat him up, would that help? Wouldn’t that add fuel to the hate? A man like him could even take out his revenge on our children.

“Next time, don’t use bad language with him,” I told the workers. “It only makes him more angry. Do you know his name?”

“We inquired in the village and found out where he lives.”

“Good, I’ll call up the headman of the Goundar community. He owes me a favor after I took good care of his wife. Maybe he will be willing to put pressure on the him.”

“Don’t worry, sahr. Rajakumari has taken care of the problem.”

“Really?”

“She called ten Blue Mango women and they confronted the Bad Shepherd. He left.”

That was a new twist, the ladies of the Blue Mango women’s program coming to our rescue. When I asked Rajakumari for details, she just laughed.

“He said some things and we said some things and his words got stuck in his throat and he ran away.”

Slowly I found out what had happened. Apparently the women told the Bad Shephard that our property belonged to their women’s program. They surrounded him and told him he had no right to talk his filth around here and if he didn’t pick up and leave immediately, they would haul his ass him down to the All Women’s Police Station and charge him with attempted rape. One of the women hitched up her sari, just a little, gave a warning wiggle of her hip, and let out a string of obscenities involving itching dogs, menstrual blood and worse.

The Bad Shepherd with all his goons and goats fled. They haven’t been seen since.

Blue Mango women 2


About the Author

Bruce DeJong

I am an Indian of American parentage who practices medicine in rural Tamil Nadu. After years of getting to know the local people, they have begun to open up their lives, allowing me to paint a portrait of their village one story at a time.


  • Penny Fidler

    women are so good at multi tasking! lovely way to resolve an unpleasant issue, one that we all have had to deal with at some point or other…… hope you still have enough food left for your cows in these draught days…

    • Bruce DeJong

      Thanks Penny, yes difficult to find enough grass for all the cows. Rains were quite poor for our taluk this year. Still have water coming from the ground, so that’s a blessing.

  • Blu Skygazer

    Oh the travails of farming out in the country and dealing with riffraff like this… Aaargh!
    Reading this brings back my own unpleasant experiences.

  • Blu Skygazer

    In fact this is exactly why I’ve decided that if/when I buy my own property out in the boondocks, I’m gonna look for a contiguous parcel of land that I can put a compound wall around.