Cows have long been venerated as sacred animals by India’s Hindu majority, but now a state government is developing plans to bring this devotion into the 21st century.
The Madhya Pradesh government says it will launch an app and website that will serve as a one-stop shop for people to “adopt a cow”, keep up with the latest news from their local “gaushala” (cow shelter) and even purchase items made from cow dung and urine.
Adopting a cow – donating money to a shelter for its upkeep – doesn’t come cheap. Supporting an individual animal for its lifetime will set you back Rs300,000 (£3,400).
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Cash gifts to cow shelters are a common, albeit informal, practice in India. They are the kind of Hindu charity said to bring good fortune – and newspapers often carry adverts from such facilities asking for donations.
But after successful schemes by public cow shelters in the state to let businesses and NRIs – non-resident Indians – adopt individual cows, the Madhya Pradesh (MP) government is now rolling this scheme out to let anyone get involved, and hopes the new website will speed up the process.
With a rise in cow protection vigilantism and state laws banning the slaughter of cattle, India is suffering from a stray cow crisis.
In MP alone, the government says there are 700,000 dairy cows who have stopped producing milk and been abandoned by their owners.
Earlier this year, the MP government pledged to fund 1,000 new cow shelters – a promise which surprised some, since the state had recently changed hands from the Hindu nationalist BJP party of Narendra Modi – more associated with cow protection – to the progressive and secularist Congress party.
Congress at the time said it too was a party that cared about cows, and claimed that the BJP had failed to build a single new shelter in its previous 15 years in power in the state.
The state minister for animal husbandry, Lakhan Singh Yadav, said the new website and app would help bridge the “problem of funds” in setting up new shelters.
“There are so many people in the state who worship cows and want [to support the] welfare of the cows, so to give a platform to these people we are going to introduce hi-tech solutions,” he told the Hindustan Times.
Officials said they aimed to launch the website and app by the end of the month. As well as the main offering of adopting a cow for between 15 days and a lifetime, users on a tighter budget will also be able to purchase specific items the animals might need – from fresh green fodder and medicines to fans that keep them cool in the heat of the day.
While this is believed to be the first government website set up just for cow adoption, it is not the first state to come up with creative solutions to the same problem.
Last month the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh said it was putting up 100,000 abandoned cows for actual adoption, and that any charitable citizens who took a cow into their homes would be paid a monthly stipend of Rs900 (£10) to help cover upkeep.
And in Rajasthan, the Congress government proposed a scheme in January to pay tribute to those who (financially) adopted cows during events on Independence Day and Republic day. The policy was dropped, however, when it turned out it had first been proposed by the previous BJP administration.