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Stray Cows On Indian Streets: Why It's A Safety and Animal Welfare Issue

India is home to 5.2 million stray cows, according to the last livestock census in 2012. The number would have only increased as people witnessed more and more stray cows roaming on the roads. They infiltrate the streets, the main road, and even residential areas.

Apart from being a menace by causing heavy congestion on roads, these cows also cause road accidents and injuries.

Stray Cows Injuring People

There are many cases in India where cows have caused road accidents, and according to a report discovered by NDTV, nearly 900 deaths have occurred due to road accidents caused by stray cattle in Haryana.

Recently, a stray cow attacked a 65-year-old man in Triplicane, Chennai. He was tossed in the air and sustained injuries to his head, arms, and legs. The police station nearby launched a hunt for the cow owner, warning them not to attack the GCC (Greater Chennai Corporation) staff for rounding up the strays.

A man in Uttar Pradesh was drinking his tea when a cow attacked. Again, in Ambattur, Chennai, three cows rammed into a man’s scooter when he was out to get medicines.

In Gujarat, stray cattle are emerging as a menace. They cause road accidents or raid the standing crops. Recently, three people were killed in Saurashtra by stray cattle, one of whom was a child.

Stray cattle in villages raid the crops, which has led to conflict between humans and animals, where farmers have resorted to beating cows to chase them away. Some had to abandon the act of cropping too.

Cattle Owners See Cows As A Burden

Cattle owners are the primary caretakers; therefore, they are the ones who feed the cows in India. However, when cows are roaming near residential areas, residents feed them plant waste and leftover foods, or the cows feed themselves.

Although it is the responsibility of the cow owners to feed the cows, they prefer to leave them on the streets once they become unable to produce milk and see them as a burden.

They let the cows graze the roads once they are milked, which makes it difficult for people to navigate the roads.

Male cows, especially, are left wandering cities since they can no longer be slaughtered for meat. They are usually abandoned as calves.

“The utility of the male calf has become almost zero,” says Krishna Chauhan, a veterinary officer in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. He also stated that farmers would sometimes let the male cows starve to death or overeat until they died.

How Stray Cattle Is A Public Health Issue

Since cows are free to walk on roads and in residential areas, they often feed on the garbage and cause garbage to fall out of their containers and spread across the street. The garbage lying on the streets doesn’t get picked up for a long time. It becomes an area for flies to infest freely.

Additionally, the rank smell coming from the garbage makes everyone passing by feel uncomfortable and unclean. It also makes the environment unhygienic.

Cattle also spread various diseases, like Brucellosis, which causes flu-like symptoms. There is also speculation that stray cattle may be the reason for the outbreak of lumpy skin disease in India in 2022, which affected over 2 million domestic animals.

How The Stray Cattle Issue Is An Animal Welfare Issue

The garbage the stray cattle consume on roads and in dumpsters is often filled with harmful substances that include everything humans dispose of: plastic, paper, wrappers, cardboard, rotten food, and even glass, which can harm the cows. 

Because of the huge buildup of inorganic and indigestible materials, cows may stop producing milk or even face death.

The five million stray cows in India are mostly male and in dire conditions. They are either starving, injured, or, worse, getting hit by cars and scooters. They are often found in poor health, scrawny-looking, with wounds likely to be infected.

The Irony Behind Protecting Stray Cows in India

The inability to manage and control stray cattle goes beyond the municipal corporations that are unable to catch them. Cows are considered sacred in India, especially for Hindus, and attempts to control them can offend the community.

Because of its sacredness, slaughtering cows was banned in India in 2017 under the BJP government, leaving a large population of stray cows wandering the streets unattended.

In Hindu mythology, growing, protecting, and nourishing cows is considered a sacred role in society. The irony is that very minimal action is being taken by the government to prevent them from harming themselves or others from harming them.

Moreover, the ban seems to have backfired. Referring to the slaughter as the “pink revolution," the government banned the slaughtering of cows, despite India being the second-largest producer of beef and the largest milk producer in the world.

Furthermore, the ban has caused agitation between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Hindus see it as sacred, while Muslims see it as a cheap source of protein.

Hindu mobs have resorted to lynching people on suspicion of carrying or smuggling cows. A 35-year-old man was killed in Karnataka when a group of “cow vigilantes” supposedly assaulted him while he was transporting cattle.

Despite showing documents that proved the cattle were bought from a local market, he and his companions were assaulted and told to go back to Pakistan. The assault was led by Puneet Keerehalli and other members of the Rashtra Rakshana Pade, who have had previous allegations made against him.

How can the countless attacks on the Muslim community for transporting, selling, and possessing cattle just be ignored? This calls for a serious review of the ban and the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act (KPSPCA), 2020.

“It is a bit ironic that, supposedly, we [Indians] are cow lovers and we have the worst animal welfare problem,” says Navneet Dhand, an associate professor in veterinary biostatistics at the University of Sydney.

The Real Issue: Corporations and Lack of Government Intervention

When the BJP government brought in KPSPCA as a matter of immediate importance, they failed to account for the severe economic and social conditions prevailing in the state as the pandemic started and lockdown was initiated.

When asked about the issue of stray cattle, Agriculture Minister Raghavji Patel said at the GauTech 2023, “The problem of stray cows will be solved only if society treats them as mothers and finds value in all their products.”

Despite numerous complaints by residents and authorities, little has been done to solve the problem of stray cattle in India. 

S Suresh, president of the United Welfare Association in Ambattur, Chennai, said, “I call the officials, and they do not come to catch the cows during late mornings or afternoons when they graze on roads.”

Similarly, a vendor in Noida, Atul Yadav, said, "We see this happen every day, and no one even bothers to clean the mess or take care of the cows. The authorities do not care, and people who own cows are not able to.”

Another official complaint was made by a resident, who stated that cows would fight amongst themselves, causing a threat to pedestrians. They would urinate and defecate everywhere, which created a foul smell that the corporation sweeper could not clean.

So, why is the corporation not catching more stray cattle? In Chennai, the corporation staff has asked for better training, higher compensation, and job permanency since they are exposed to numerous risks and receive no training.

A cowcatcher stated, while expressing his concerns, that he has often been hurt while capturing cows. He also added that the supervisors of GCC are only bystanders and do not take any initiative to assist the workers in crisis.

“We are paid ₹200 per cow, with a target of two cows per day. If we fail to meet this target, ₹110 per day is deducted from our salary of ₹13,000.”, he said.

The GCC Commissioner had promised a program to be organised at the Chennai Corporation involving animal trainers from other districts in the state. 

The limited number of pounds, or gaushalas, in various states is also a problem for the corporation. They tend to release the cattle immediately after their capture and only charge a meagre amount of Rs. 1,500 from the owners. They are also reluctant to handle the heads of the captured cattle.

Corporation staff is also often threatened or followed by cow owners who intimidate them into releasing the cows quickly.

Solutions Provided By The Government

The government has encouraged the “game-changing” method of artificial insemination of cows, a technique that guarantees the birth of a desired gender up to 95%. The technology is imported and expensive—almost a hundred times more expensive than using conventional semen.

However, the government of Kerala recently supported this method by launching a scheme that would distribute sexed semen at subsidised rates. They also promised a refund if the procedure failed.

The other solution given by the government is the booming of gaushalas. India already has more than 5,000 gaushalas. These gaushalas are funded by the public, the government, businesses, and temple trusts. In Uttar Pradesh, the government plans to create a 130-acre cow sanctuary.

However, gaushalas are also not equipped to handle the volume of cows since many of them today are overpopulated.

The government is also promoting the use of cow urine and cow dung to make useful products. Some have recommended the complete boycott of chemical fertilisers and pesticides for farming and encouraged the use of cow dung as a natural fertiliser, thereby creating more demand to maintain cows properly.

Edited by Shawn Chodhry

Photo Courtesy: Jon

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