In Search of Sacred Cows

In Search of Sacred Cows

Rescued or exploited?

A truckload of cows arrived at the Gopal Gausadan shortly after we did. The gausadan (cow house) is one of the large government funded gaushalas (cow shelters) surrounding India’s capital, New Delhi. It houses roughly 2500 cows. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has been rounding up the stray cows on the city streets, microchipping them and transporting them to places like this one. A few hundred arrive here every month. Where did these cows come from? The majority of them can be traced back to the dairy industry. Since cow slaughter is illegal in many parts of India, spent dairy cows and their male calves are often abandoned or discarded on the streets and can be found foraging through garbage struggling to survive.

Illegal dairies are also responsible, as this article in the New York Times points out:

“An even greater concern, however, are the thousands of illegal dairies that operate in the city. The government classifies any cow wandering the streets as “stray,” but many of these animals are actually owned by unlicensed dairies. The dairy operators – and the slum dwellers who buy their cheap milk – often react violently when cattle catchers arrive.”

When the cows arrived the morning we did, the gaushala staff recorded the microchip number of every cow before releasing them to the large shed where the other cows were resting. When Gopal Gausadan was first established in 1994, the government gave it 85 acres of land. In 2006, 65 acres were taken back and allocated to a government reforestation project, which was compensating for site clearings during the construction of Delhi’s metro (or subway). With the gausadan’s land area so vastly reduced, the cows can no longer graze freely and are instead fed fodder bought daily at the market.

While this gausadan is government funded, it also has its own revenue generating schemes. While it cares for cows discarded by the dairy industry, the gaushala itself runs a small dairy. About 40 cows are used for dairy production. Their calves were separated from them most of the day to divert milk for human sale and consumption. Distilled cow urine is also sold as a medicinal product. “Nectar of Urine” is supposed to have curative properties for a wide range of ailments. The cows providing the urine, however, were chained in the same spot for five to six hours a day.

The mortality rate here, as in most gaushalas, is very high. Three to four cows die a day, almost 120 a month. When autopsies are performed, almost all of the cows are found to have plastic bags in their stomach, presumably from their street days rummaging through trash in search of food. Earlier this year, New Delhi outlawed plastic bags as have other parts of India.

However, polyethylene strips still litter the landscape.

We were taken to the shed where the sick cows spend their remaining days.

Another MCD truck will come and take the dead bodies away.

Access to this gaushala was facilitated by Nitin Goel of the Humane Society International (HSI). Learn more about HSI’s work on factory farming in India here:

Photo: Wan Park