Sanctity Can’t Save India’s Cows

In an environment where India must chase growth, cows are still mistreated in two of the country's largest industries — leather and dairy.

Panambur Beach, Mangalore (via Avinash Bhatt)

Puja Changoiwala


July 18, 2019


6 min

Fifteen years ago, animal activist Fizza Shah witnessed a bull collapse on a Mumbai street as it was pulling a cart under the scorching Indian sun. Shah started visiting cows and buffalos at animal farms around the city with a veterinarian, carrying fodder. She learned that the animals were put through rigorous labor, and sold to slaughterhouses when they grew old, their skin traded for leather. Many others were killed while healthy to feed the leather trade.

Cows in India, though revered in Hinduism, are grossly mistreated — despite a 60-year-old animal protection law, a 2017 ban against cattle sale for slaughter, crackdowns against illegal slaughterhouses, and cow protection groups killing at least 44 people in the cattle trade from 2015 to 2018. 

The biggest culprits are India’s large leather and dairy industries.

India’s $17.9 billion leather industry, the largest in the world, produces 3 billion square feet of leather a year —  or 13% of the world’s hides and skins. The largest markets for India’s leather exports, from April to October 2018, were the United States (17%), Germany (12%), the UK (11%), Italy (7.5%), and France (5.5%). India is home to 20% of the world’s cattle and buffalo and 11% of the world’s goats and sheep.

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