As an artist that has been painting Indian cows for several years I felt that it was now time to give more meaning to my paintings and also to find people out there that felt as passionately about cows as I did.
I did an online search for 'Indian Cow Charities' and after some digging I found 2 organisations: "Save a Cow" initiative through the Dhyan Foundation and ‘Care for Cows’ organization (also known as Dakshin Vrindavan). I immediately got in touch and both organisations responded and we set about planning my visits.
The Dhyan Foundation
I first visited one of the Dhyan Foundation’s Gaushalas in Quepem, Goa on 10th January 2017 and took some wonderful photographs. Then, on 16th January, I finally got an opportunity to meet with two of the volunteers, Kavita and Rahul, and visit the Gaushala in Mandya, 90km outside Bangalore. I learnt so much in just one day about the plight of these beautiful animals and the selfless work that the "Save A Cow" programme was carrying out; it was quite amazing.
When we arrived at the Gaushala I met these graceful native Indian Desi cows and started interacting with them. It was quite different to previous experiences in which the cows had been very inquisitive and friendly. I was told that the cows and bulls at this Gaushala have mostly all been rescued from illegal trafficking to slaughter-houses. Hence, they were initially very nervous and I could sense that when I approached them, from the look in their eyes, that they had undergone some real trauma. I also learned that when cows are taken illegally for slaughter they are packed into trucks, often blinded by chilli powder which is rubbed into their eyes, and then driven for anything up to 16 hours without food or water. When these trucks have been successfully intercepted the cows have been found with broken horns, cuts, and some of them do not even escape alive; crushed to death by the others through sheer terror. The majority of the cattle were Hallikar Bulls, a native breed of high intelligence and refined appearance (its urine is known to have medicinal properties!)
I spent many hours connecting with them, hand-feeding them bananas, talking softly and just trying to reassure them that I had come in peace. I took numerous photographs and by the end of the day all the cows were taking food from my hands. There was one beautiful Bull that needs a special mention (no 161, whom I'm hoping we can now call Charu) and I established a real bond with him and after some time he allowed me to rub his head and neck freely.The day ended with Kavita carrying out a special ceremony in the cowshed, called a Havan, a fire ritual using the cow dung, purified ghee and some herbs, whilst she chanted beautiful mantras and I watched the fire, to the sounds of 200 cattle munching hay, as the setting sun turned red.Finally, we visited a local village where Dhyan Foundation volunteers are teaching the local women to make organic soaps and pots out of cow dung obtained from the Gaushala cows, so that they can empower themselves by supplementing their family income.
On the drive back to Bangalore, Kavita had a random intuition about a truck ahead that led her to check with a Save A Cow team member about whether the suspect truck was in their list of repeated offenders, for carrying cattle meant to be transported for illegal slaughter.
She very quickly received word back from the team who after cross-checking, spelt out the Registration number of the suspect truck that it had indeed in the past been used for illegal trafficking.
So just like s scene from a movie I sudden found myself in a real life chase after the truck.
We overtook the truck and sped ahead to the nearest Police Station; this was in Channapatna town.
Kavita sprung out the car and got the police to come out and stand on the highway , in order to help intercept the suspect truck. It was all very frenzied with lots of shouting going on from all parties.
However, the truck managed to just get past so the chase continued this time with the police accompanying us as well.
A few kilometers ahead, we managed to intercept the truck , and the police asked to see the drivers paperwork and questioned him on his carriage. He was absolutely terrified!
It turned out that the original owner of the Vehicle had sold it on, so, although it was listed as a 'Repeat Offending Vehicle' it wasn't actually carrying cattle for slaughter.
However the whole episode gave me a real insight into the work of the foundation and the hands on methods they use to catch traffickers, often taking the law into their own hands when police refuse to get involved.
Care for cows - Dakshin Vrindavan
After emailing the charity it wasn't long before Ashwin, its sole founder promptly replied and we started planning my trip to the Gaushala in Pallakad, Kerala. I was particularly interested in the work Ashwin was doing, as he had set up this trust singlehandedly purely out of a passion for these beautiful animals without any help of a wider organization such as an Ashram (which many Gaushalas need to be affiliated to in order to get funding.) This is also the only Gaushala in Kerala and a real achievement as Kerala is the main hub for cattle slaughter in India. It was decided that I would base myself at the Isha yoga centre in Tamil Nadu in order that I could enjoy the Mattu Pongal festival (a Tamil celebration of the cow and all the good things it brings to human life) and then travel across state to Kerala to visit Gaushala. Ashwin put me in touch with Rajesh, who manages the Gaushala, and on 14th January 2017 I took a taxi from Isha to meet Rajesh on the state highway about ten kilometers from the site.
Rajesh, a fairly eccentric animal lover, manages the Gaushala voluntarily in between looking after his dogs and two elephants!
When we arrived, I met a beautiful young grey calf who had been there just a week since he was rescued from a slaughterhouse.
There were approximately 30 cattle in the grounds comprising of calves, bulls and cows of varying native breeds. Considering the stress most of these animals had been through they were all of very good temperament and seemed receptive to my offers of bananas and happy to be photographed.
I became particularly drawn to a very large and graceful cow I later came to know as Devali. She was so calm and serene as she lay under the shade of a tree, unable to move much due to a leg injury caused by a previous owner. Her owner had sold her to a slaughterhouse after she 'became dry' and was no longer able to produce milk.
As she had been dehorned as a calf I was able to get very close to her and we sat together for about an hour. She placed her head on my lap and gently blew air out her nostrils and I felt a sense of total peace. I even took a series of 'Selfies' of the two of us.
When I had got all my photographs Rajesh kindly embarked on the 90min drive back to Isha.
We talked excitedly about animals, politics and environmental issues and even realized we shared the same birthday! I gave him some petrol money plus 500 rupees to buy some cattle food. It was just a gesture; a tiny drop in the ocean of what is needed to keep this Gaushala running.
I later met Ashwin in Bangalore. I learnt that he is a young lawyer and set up this charity with the help of his friend Shankar, who created the website whilst they were still at law school three years ago. They have achieved remarkable things.
I also learnt that the beautiful calf I met on my arrival at the Gaushala last just last week has now died of e coli infection due to 'extreme filth' in the slaughterhouse where he was born.
So, what next for me in this journey? I have been truly moved by my experiences and I want to help by using my photographs to create artworks (that I intend to sell) of these beautiful and worthy animals to help generate a better understanding of their plight and donate some of the profits to this noble and worthy cause.
Photo 1 - charlotte with Hallikar Bull Charu