No room at the inn for ‘sa­cred’ bovines

Cow shel­ters are strug­gling to keep up with de­mand

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Revered by most In­di­ans, cows are at the cen­tre of po­lit­i­cal bat­tles and ‘lynch mob’ at­tacks, but they are be­ing aban­doned in grow­ing num­bers and turned away by shel­ters that can­not cope. The Sri Kr­ishna Gaushala on the out­skirts of New Delhi is typ­i­cal of shel­ters for home­less cows across In­dia-strug­gling to keep up with de­mand.

Au­thor­i­ties in Ut­tar Pradesh and Haryana states are think­ing of build­ing cow shel­ters in pris­ons. At one Ut­tar Pradesh shel­ter, scores of cows are re­ported to have died from hunger in re­cent weeks. Sri Kr­ishna is spread over 38 acres and is home to nearly 8,000 cows, bulls and calves-mostly age­ing, ail­ing, and no longer pro­duc­ing milk.

Ra­jen­dra Singh Shekhawat man­ages 110 bustling sheds where cows are fed, treated and even mas­saged af­ter be­ing res­cued, bought from cash-strapped farm­ers, or do­nated. The shel­ter is close to its 7,800 ca­pac­ity. “We have 7,700 right now. All the other cow shel­ters in Delhi are fac­ing the same prob­lem, they’re all over­crowded,” Shekhawat told AFP.

Cows are wor­shipped as a mother fig­ure by Hin­dus who make up more than 900 mil­lion of the coun­try’s 1.3 bil­lion pop­u­la­tion. Some peo­ple con­sider cows a one-stop-shop for their dairy and med­i­cal needs. Many be­lieve that drink­ing cow urine can cure ev­ery­thing from arthri­tis and asthma to can­cer and di­a­betes.

Five mil­lion strays

“The cow isn’t an an­i­mal, it isn’t an or­di­nary liv­ing thing. She is our mother and her place should be at a home,” 55-year-old Shekhawat told AFP as a vet­eri­nar­ian hooked up in­tra­venous drips to one ail­ing an­i­mal. But a 2012 live­stock cen­sus found there were more than five mil­lion strays across In­dia and more than 12,000 in Delhi.

Cows hold up city traf­fic and graze on plas­tic bags, used san­i­tary nap­kins and cor­roded bat­ter­ies on garbage dumps. One had to be res­cued in Delhi last week af­ter fall­ing down a rain drain. Courts have re­peat­edly or­dered au­thor­i­ties to take ac­tion be­cause of the safety and pub­lic health risk. But since Hindu na­tion­al­ist Prime Min­is­ter Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party stormed to power in 2014, cows have won a near-VIP sta­tus. Ru­mors of cows be­ing taken for slaugh­ter can spark mur­der­ous reprisals and re­li­gious ri­ots.

The gov­ern­ment tried to im­pose a na­tion­wide ban on the sale of cat­tle for slaugh­ter, trig­ger­ing an out­cry among Mus­lims and other mi­nori­ties who eat beef. The ban was sus­pended by the Supreme Court this month. Ev­ery month, some 600 cat­tle are rounded up in Delhi and re­lo­cated to five shel­ters. “Three of the five are packed. Cur­rently we’re de­port­ing strays to the near­est less-crowded shel­ter,” Ji­ten­dra Ku­mar Gaur, di­rec­tor of Delhi’s an­i­mal hus­bandry depart­ment, told AFP.

Gaur said im­proved tech­nol­ogy and health mea­sures like vac­ci­na­tions and de­worm­ing have boosted cows’ life­span. But he also blames “the com­mer­cial mind­set of farm­ers” who only keep cows while they pro­vide milk. “This is the first time we are fac­ing this ‘over­crowd­ing’ prob­lem and the men­ace is mainly cre­ated by those who aban­don their cat­tle.”

Over­crowd­ing ‘good news’?

Ev­ery day, the five shel­ters re­ceive 40 ru­pees ($0.62) per an­i­mal from the gov­ern­ment. Shekhawat says he spends more than 100 ru­pees ($1.55) for each cow. Sup­port­ers of the shel­ter do­nate thou­sands of dol­lars each year to keep it go­ing. But space is also a prob­lem.

Shekhawat said he has asked the Delhi gov­ern­ment for more land so he can “house an ad­di­tional 5,000, 7,000 or even 10,000 cows here.” Delhi does not have spare land, said Gaur, whose depart­ment wants to put a mi­crochip in ev­ery bovine to help track and iden­tify an­i­mals and their own­ers. “We have long-term so­lu­tions. We won’t let this prob­lem get out of hand,” he vowed.

Shekhawat main­tains that the best way to lower the num­ber of strays is for In­di­ans to go back to their ru­ral roots and “take care of cows at home”. With stray num­bers ris­ing, it is tough for Delhi res­i­dents to look af­ter a cow in a city where the pop­u­la­tion is shoot­ing to­ward 20 mil­lion. And the prob­lem is not lim­ited to Delhi, ac­cord­ing to an­i­mal rights ac­tivist Rima Anand, high­light­ing shel­ters burst­ing at the seams across In­dia. “There is a change in at­ti­tude to­wards cows thanks to this gov­ern­ment. It has pri­or­i­tized cow wel­fare,” Anand, of the Del­hibased Dhyan Foun­da­tion that res­cues and pro­tects an­i­mals, told AFP. “Shel­ters are full across the coun­try,” said Anand. But this, she main­tained, was bet­ter than see­ing the an­i­mals slaugh­tered il­le­gally. “Ask me? Over­crowded cow shel­ters is good news.” — AFP

NEW DELHI: In this pho­to­graph taken on July 20, 2017 a cow stands amidst the traf­fic on a road. —AFP

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