Speaker 1:

It's a scene common enough to Western eyes: grief at the passing of a loved family friend, but here in Delhi, where even human life can often pass unmourned, such an affection for an animal is sadly rare.

 

 

In this city of 13 million people, pets are a luxury. Most creatures, great and small, are left to find their own way through the urban jungle.

 

 

Every day this animal ambulance scours the streets for the sick and injured. Their biggest customer, the revered but neglected holy cow.

 

 

In a city with next to no fodder, cows are left to forage through the garbage. It's a diet of food scraps and plastic. The result is all too common.

 

Speaker 2:

[foreign language].

 

Speaker 1:

There are some 20,000 cows on the streets of Delhi, this one's probably been lying here helpless for several days.

 

Speaker 2:

[foreign language].

 

Speaker 1:

She could have as much as 50 kilos of plastic bags stuck in her intestines.

 

Speaker 2:

[foreign language].

 

Speaker 1:

The Sanjay Gandhi Animal Centre is the one safe refuge for creatures spat out by the city; those too young, too ill, or too old to look after themselves.

 

 

It was started by Maneka Gandhi, government minister, enemy of the bureaucracy, friend of the homeless.

 

Maneka Gandhi:

Yeah, he's been with me for the longest, and he's got [crosstalk].

 

Speaker 1:

Maneka's portfolio covers everything other ministers don't want, especially when it comes to animals.

 

Maneka Gandhi:

What everybody has forgotten is that we can never be a Western country. Every city of ours is replete with animal life, from mongooses, and peacocks, and snakes, and everything, to human beings, and we don't kill them. Therefore, we have to make provision for them to live.

 

Speaker 1:

Maneka believes the work done here is not just for the animals, people benefit too.

 

 

These strays have been sterilised, but they've also been vaccinated against rabies at the shelter's expense. The government won't help with the cost, and that makes Maneka rabid.

 

Maneka Gandhi:

Each vaccination costs me 15 rupees, but government will pay if a person has been bitten by a dog, and he goes yelling and screaming that he's going to get rabies. Government will pay 5000 rupees to pay for his injections, but they won't pay us 15 rupees to make the dogs rabies-free.

 

Speaker 1:

Why not just put the dogs down, you might say, but in India, it's not that simple. These stray dogs are needed.

 

Speaker 4:

You see the tag number? [inaudible] from where the dog was picked up, and leave them the same place.

 

Maneka Gandhi:

They removed all the dogs from a place called Surat. All the rats came above ground. When they came above ground, we had plague, if you'll remember. Two rats can turn into 300,000 rats in two years. I can't kill them, and I doubt if anybody can. We don't have any pied pipers here.

 

 

[foreign languag].

 

Speaker 1:

There may be no pied pipers, but the city does have a few Dr. Doolittles.

 

Maneka Gandhi:

[inaudible].

 

Speaker 1:

Dr. Sunita Nauriyal, the shelter's director, has fought against the odds to follow her calling.

 

Sunita N.:

In India, women gallivanting around in the middle of the night with a stethoscope in hand is something a little improbable, you know. People don't like ... I mean, I've always had a problem when I reach here in the night with an emergency, and they're quite shocked to see me. What is a woman doing here?

 

Speaker 6:

[foreign language].

 

Speaker 1:

No one gets rich working here. The rewards come form the animals themselves.

 

Sunita N.:

It's the what they give you in return is so much. Not that we do it because we get it in return, but it's amazing. It can really bring tears to your eyes.

 

Speaker 1:

Of all the animals that make up the menagerie that is Delhi, the cow stands alone, but their numbers are growing.

 

 

Their sacred status means they're virtually untouchable, left to wander as they will, but as the city grows, the streets of Delhi are proving no place for contented cows. The problem: what to do with them?

 

 

In many other cities of the world, they'd be eaten, but not here. For most Hindus, eating cow is far from kosher.

 

 

You can pick up a steak if you can cope with the outdoor butcher, but they're catering mostly to India's minority muslims.

 

 

To solve a modern problem, there was an ancient solution: the gowshala, a sort of retirement village where sacred cows may safely graze.

 

Maneka Gandhi:

We thought that instead of picking up at random, since there were about 20,000 cows in the city, why not get the government to make a ring of gowshalas in which we could put the animals before they were taken ill?

 

Speaker 1:

The government agreed, but first, how to get them there?

 

Speaker 7:

[foreign language].

 

Speaker 1:

And so were born the feared Municipal Cow Catchers of Delhi.

 

Speaker 8:

[inaudible]. Your voice is not clear.

 

Speaker 1:

These cowboys are leading the fight to reclaim the streets. No cattle are safe in their midst.

 

 

Catching a cow is a delicate science. First, there's the search. You must know their feeding habits. Then the stalk, preferably approach from upwind. Then there's the arrest, and finally, the [inaudible].

 

 

Of course, all hunters must endure the one which gets away.

 

Speaker 8:

[foreign language].

 

Speaker 1:

Mr. Sharma and his men know the enemy has excellent intelligence.

 

Speaker 8:

The [inaudible] cattle recognise this van, and seeing this van, that has ran away.

 

Speaker 1:

So, as soon as they see he van, they're out of here?

 

Speaker 8:

Oh, yes.

 

Speaker 1:

To make matters even more difficult for the cow catchers, the cows have an ally: their owners.

 

 

For although the cows may roam the city streets eating garbage, they do belong to people, and they're milked for everything they're worth. They are indeed the city's milk supply, so when these errant cows are just about to be taken into custody, these motorcycle-riding villains, the cow owners, spring them in broad daylight.

 

Speaker 8:

They are escaping their cattles from this van.

 

Speaker 1:

The owners?

 

Speaker 8:

The owners of the cattles, they know that the van is on the way to catch the cattles, so they are alert and they are trying to escape their cattles away from this van.

 

Speaker 9:

[foreign language].

 

Speaker 1:

But with 20,000 cows loose in the city, there's always another to keep the cow catchers quota up.

 

Speaker 9:

[foreign language].

 

Speaker 1:

Unceremoniously, this most holy of animals in India is taken from the streets.

 

Speaker 9:

[foreign language].

 

Speaker 1:

This is a gowshala on the outskirts of Delhi. A cross between a farm and a bovine dumping ground. While the government supplies the land, there's no money for upkeep, but thousands of cows here are supported by donation.

 

Speaker 10:

[foreign language].

 

Speaker 1:

But the cow catchers claim that they most cows end up back on the streets, and someone's making a rupee out of it.

 

Speaker 8:

Actually, the owners of the cattles, they are paying some money to the gowshala owner. They bring back their cattles.

 

Speaker 1:

So, the problem goes on?

 

Speaker 8:

Yes.

 

Speaker 1:

It's no solution then.

 

Speaker 8:

No solution.

 

Speaker 1:

So, why do you bother? Why do you go to all the trouble?

 

Speaker 8:

We have to do.

 

Speaker 1:

The gowshalas deny such accusations.

 

Speaker 10:

[foreign language].

 

Speaker 1:

But the cow catchers stick to their guns.

 

 

The cows you catch today will be back on the streets tomorrow?

 

Speaker 8:

No, no, no, no. Not tomorrow.

 

Speaker 1:

The next day?

 

Speaker 8:

No, after a week or after 10 days or 15 days, but not in the next day.

 

Speaker 1:

The cows themselves aren't speaking about it, but the owners are, and they're angry about being caught in this bureaucratic round-robin.

 

Speaker 11:

[foreign language].

 

Speaker 1:

And so, with a variety of interested parties involved, the sacred cows are moved from the streets to the gowshalas, and back again, with a few rupees changing hands along the way.

 

Maneka Gandhi:

You may say anything you feel like, but I believe that you're involved in a cover up.

 

Speaker 1:

Even as a minister in the government, Maneka Gandhi seems powerless in the face of the bureaucracy.

 

 

It is a bungling bureaucracy?

 

Maneka Gandhi:

No, no. It's malicious. It's deliberately malicious. If it were bungling, that can be cured, but if it's deliberately malicious, there's very little you can do about it.

 

Speaker 1:

It's actively resistant?

 

Maneka Gandhi:

No. Actively vicious.

 

Speaker 1:

It's a classic case of good intentions gone wrong. The cow owners go broke, the cow catchers perform a useless task, a bit of baksheesh is pocketed.

 

Speaker 12:

[foreign language].

 

Speaker 1:

And from traffic accidents to plastic bags, it's left to the staff at the animal centre to patch up the damage, if possible.

 

Speaker 4:

Probably she's been lying on the street for two or three days maybe, but the case is very poor. It's very bad. Prognosis like very dim. [inaudible], that's it.

 

Speaker 1:

Killing a cow, even the most afflicted, is too many Indians, unthinkable. In most states, it's even illegal, but sometimes cultural and religious pressures are set aside.

 

Sunita N.:

We do put them to sleep. We do euthanize them because there's no way out. It's really inhuman to keep them alive.

 

Speaker 6:

[foreign language].

 

Speaker 1:

They may be hounded by the bureaucracy and frowned upon by the devout, but this small group of animal lovers is not going to give in.

 

Sunita N.:

You have to have a passion for it. You've got to have some kind of madness to work here. You see, there's a term in Hindi, [foreign language], which means your work is your worship.

 

 

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