Many cows freely roam the streets of Delhi-a sprawling city that's home to more than 9 million people-grazing on strewn trash. Most of them wind up at cow shelters, their guts destroyed by plastic. From there, activists say, only the cash cows are saved. The others are often stolen or sold to gangs that run illicit slaughterhouses. "Nobody," says Vidhi Shukla, the director of the small animal hospital in Noida, "is interested in cows that don't give milk."
The illicit slaughterhouses, activists say, are dark, wretched places that spring up in India's slums. The cattle that survive the slog to the butcher are typically hit with hammers before workers slit their throats, leaving them to die in a pool of their own blood. Some, activists say, are skinned while they're still alive.
Most Indian states have laws meant to protect cows from slaughter or abuse, but they've proven ineffective at defending them against smugglers. Enforcement is scant, but animal welfare activists are stepping up their game to protect India's cows.