This is an article published by the weekly magazine "Vi Menn" on February 11, 2022
Left to themself: Homeless cows on the streets of the city of Siliguri in the Indian state of West Bengal
However, more and more of the states in India are banning the slaughter of cattle. But when the cows no longer produce milk and the farmers can not afford to feed them, they are pushed out into the street
EATING PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING: When the cows get hungry enough, they eat plastic and all sorts of other things they find on the rubbish heaps
HOLY COW: The sanctity of the cow is a central part of Hinduism. Hindus view the cow as a mother to all people because they drink breast milk only for a few months but cow's milk for life. And it is not just milk that is a resource for Hindus in India. The faeces have traditionally also been an important resource and the cow's urine has been used for disinfection.
More and more of the states in India are banning the slaughter of cattle. But when the cows no longer produce milk and the farmers cannot afford to feed them, they are pushed out into the street.
The cow, sacred to some and necessary to others, is undoubtedly India's most divisive animal. For Hindus, who make up 80 percent of the country's 1.3 billion people, cows are sacred. They are a symbol of both prosperity and abundance. Therefore, sacrificing or killing a cow is sacrilege. But for Muslims, Christians and India's lower castes, beef is part of the diet. It is also cheaper than, for example, chicken or fish. In addition, cattle farming has been an important part of the livelihood of Muslims for generations. They sell beef and own most of the country's slaughterhouses.
Since India's current Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, he has worked to promote Hindu values, such as honoring the cow, which were election campaign promises he made to gain support from the vast Hindu majority. Modi, who was re-elected in 2019, is himself a Hindu and represents the Bharatiya Janata party, which consists of a network of Hindu fundamentalist groups that want India to be a nation where Hindus are above the other religions.
The various states themselves largely control their agricultural policy. There is no national law on the slaughter of livestock, including cattle. In several of the states, it was forbidden to slaughter cattle even before Modi came to power, but others have now followed suit and banned both slaughter of cattle, transport and sale of beef. The fines for breaking the pre-injunction have increased and even the burden of proof has been turned upside down. It is not the prosecution authorities who must prove guilt, it is the accused who must prove his innocence.
In addition, some states have gone one step further and given private groups authority to enforce the regulations. This has led to the establishment of groups of "cow herders" in the most Hindu-fanatical states who resort to both attacks and lynchings of people suspected of using the cow for something useful.
India is the world's second largest milk producer after the United States. At the last count, the country has over 192 million cows. Of these, 22 million are unproductive. The most common terminus for cows that do not produce milk was before the new, strict laws Muslim slaughterhouses. In the current situation, dairy farmers can no longer sell cows when they no longer produce milk. But they can not afford to feed on them either. They just have to open the gate and push them out and away.
The result has been that more and more of the homeless cows stumble around on the roads, in the villages and big cities, they cause accidents and they dig in heaps and rubbish bins for something to eat, everything from rotten food waste to plastic. And paradoxically, this protection against the killing of the Hindus' holiest and most revered animals ends with their days disoriented, starving and destitute.
In an effort to alleviate the problem, a number of gaushhalas, "nursing homes for homeless cows", have been set up around the country. The nursing homes have a history that dates back to the oldest known Hindu civilizations four to five thousand years ago. Today, more than 5,000 of these nursing homes in India have the main task of providing protection and well-being for the cows. They receive both state support and are sponsored and run by charities.
The largest nursing home is located in the city of Jaipur, the capital of the state of Rajasthan. The home was established by the local government in 2004 and is today run by the charity Sri Krishna Balram Seva Trust. Hingonia gaushala - which is the name of the nursing home - is 260 hectares and has room for 13,000 cows at any given time.
In Jaipur, it is forbidden by law to dump a cow in the city, says Radha Gopal Dasa while he stands at the gate of the nursing home and waits for a transport with cows that are on their way. 26-year-old Radha is a member of the Krishna movement. He came to the nursing home in 2019 after completing studies in the agricultural industry. - We have six trucks that we send out into the streets every day to collect between 35 and 50 of the cows that walk starving and abandoned around the streets, he says.
India's largest nursing home for cows has around 400 workers, about 150 of whom live on site, several of them with their families. A cornerstone of the charity is the veterinary hospital, which has the capacity to receive 400 cows. Here, everything from glass plinths and wood chips to tumors are removed with subsequent rest and rehabilitation.
While we are standing there, a truck arrives with six cows that have been picked up from the streets of Jaipur. This is a very stressful experience for the cows who have lived homeless in the city streets for a long time, says Radha accompanied by Hare Krishna mantra music from speakers scattered around the nursing home. We use the music to calm the cows and make them feel as comfortable as possible.
All these nursing homes where the cows are taken care of, cared for and fed in anticipation of a natural death seem in all their strangeness as the best solution to a problem that has gone from bad to worse due to a government that both turns back time by legislating radical Hinduism while promising to promote economic growth and prosperity. It's like two cows running in different directions.