Today, during a conversation with co-workers, I had a longstanding assumption of mine broken. I always knew that India had cows roaming freely, and so when I moved to Mumbai I was more delighted than surprised to find cows walking around the streets, lounging on the sidewalks, and blocking traffic in the streets. The cows always seem to be in the way, but I thought their wanderings were allowed and even encouraged because cows are a sacred animal for Hindus.
As it turns out, while cows are sacred, the ones floating around the city are all owned by someone for purposes of milking or even to slaughter for beef. They are not “special” cows in any way and their owners are simply taking advantage of the fact that Hindus won’t harm a cow. They let their cows wander around and eat other people’s food, illegally grazing on the metropolis “pasture”. According to the locals I was talking to, most people would prefer if there weren’t any cows in the city.
This was a great lesson in how assuming things about other cultures can be distorting. In a moment I went from thinking that the cows were a spiritual force, roving the city streets and beloved by all — to being annoyed that people are allowed to take advantage, inconvenience, and endanger others. I have to say though, I personally still love seeing them around.
On a related note, I recently learned that there is a cow infirmary in Mumbai with over 400 sick and dying cows. These are rounded up after people let their unproductive or sickly cows wander off for good. It’s sort of a no-kill shelter for cattle. Also, yesterday I saw a cow roaming through the Khar Railway area on a bit of a rampage. He knocked over a bicycle and was stealing food from some street venders. I caught a tiny bit of it in a video you can see on Flickr.