What makes you sick about Delhi

The sad fate of the sacred cows

They live on rubbish and leftovers from plastic bags. And they move in the chaotic traffic of the 14 million metropolis of New Delhi - always in danger of being run over and dying miserably. According to estimates, 36,000 cows live on the streets of the Indian capital.

Help from private cow shelters

Not only the city administration now wants to get the cows off the street, private individuals are also committed to a more dignified life for the animals. Around a third have already found a new home: in one of New Delhi's cow shelters.

Nityanand Dadhich manages one of these homes. About 150 cows are huddled together in narrow gates. They can retreat to their straw-lined stables overnight.

In order to be able to operate more independently of donations, Dadhich bought 20 cows for milk production. The other animals in his home were given away by the owners because the cows no longer give milk because of their old age or because they are crippled, blind or sick due to an accident. Some have ulcers, open wounds, or limp on three legs.

Every morning at five o'clock the day begins for Dadhich and his fourteen helpers. They clean the stables of cow dung, fill the feed troughs with vegetables and grains. In summer, the animals are sprayed twice a day with cold water to cool them down in the shade of almost 50 degrees - almost paradisiacal conditions for the street cows.

The cow: symbol for "mother earth"

For the 800 million Hindus in India, cows are a symbol of the life-giving "Mother Earth". Many also call her Go Mata, mother cow. The bull Nandi is the mount of the god Shiva. Hindus often bow respectfully for the street cows as they walk past. Some even touch the often neglected animals and put their hands to their hearts.

"The cow is deeply rooted in our religion, in our thinking and in our emotions," says Dadhich. The slaughter of cows is banned in almost all of India. Every day Hindus come to the home to show their devotion through donations. The benevolent gesture is also supposed to bring good luck. The higher the donation, the more feed the cows get.

Milk from illegal dairies

But for some Hindus, the love for the sacred animals ends at the wallet. Many of the street cows in New Delhi are not really ownerless, but belong to illegal dairies. Their owners milk the animals in the morning and in the evening. During the day the cows have to look for food themselves. "These cows' milk stinks," says Dadhich. "How can it be otherwise when the animals have to feed on waste all day." He abhor these people's greed for profit, says Dadhich. Often sick or old animals are sold to illegal leather manufacturers or simply left to their fate.

Dadhich's private cow home cannot accept animals from the street as long as the owner does not give his consent. "But then," says Dhadich, "we will take care of her here until her last breath."