The cowboys of Delhi

Cow-catchers

No, that isn't the cast of Danny Boyle's new movie Slumdog Cowboys — that's a group of real-life cow catchers. They're rounding up cows from the streets of Delhi, helping to prepare the city for next year's Commonwealth Games, whose organising committee, unfortunately, did not want to add a hurdling element to the marathon.

In India's capital, cattle are both sacred and yet often surprisingly neglected. Cows that may be owned by a farmer and milked regularly, are often left to wander the traffic-filled streets during the day, creating chaos and causing accidents. [Link]

I'm not sure how much chaos they create, but they certainly create a lot of dung. It can be used as fertilizer and fuel, but it's not something you want to see lying on the street, especially if you just paid $500 for a pair of running shoes that you hope will win you a gold medal.

The dangers facing these urban cowboys are many. The horns of a bull can cause nasty injuries and it's common for the cowcatchers to come home with injuries. These young workers – the majority of whom are privately contracted and receive just $70 a month – invariably have no health coverage.

Then there is the threat of the people who either claim to own the cattle, or who disapprove of the supposedly sacred animals being captured and unceremoniously loaded on to a hydraulic truck. "Sometimes people will fight with us and try to release the cows," said Lal Krishnan, 37, a goodnatured cow-catching foreman who has been doing this job for 18 years. "Sometimes they throw stones. Sometimes they beat us up. I've been beaten up before." [Link]

It's a tough job, rounding up cows in India. Never mind that the Commonwealth Games are approaching – many people think of the cows as their common wealth and don't want you playing games with them.

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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