Delhi's largest gaushala has a welcome shock for every cow-loving Hindu
Asiya Khan and her husband have spent their lives saving cows that Hindus hold sacred and often leave to rot.
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Saturdays mean more visitors at Delhi's oldest cow shelter, nestled in Mehrauli's Kishangarh village. Home to more than 1200 cows, most of whom find themselves at the shelter after they can no longer be milked by their owners, the 125-year-old gaushala sees a rush of activity on weekends as devotees from across the National Capital Region make quick trips to seek bovine blessings.
All of 20 care givers tend to the massive herd, which includes 84 blind cows. They work through the day to feed, bathe the cows and clear their dung. Given the ancient Indian fixation with the animal, which peaked to criminal proportions with the Dadri murder, none of this is surprising. Except, what makes Mehrauli's gaushala a haven of its kind is that more than 800 of the cows are cared for by 40-year-old Asiya Khan and her family. In Modi's India, where a Muslim man is murdered by a Hindu mob over rumours of eating beef, Asiya and her husband have spent their lives saving cows that Hindus hold sacred and often leave to rot at this shelter.Asiya Khan at Mehrauli Gaushala Dehat.
At the crack of dawn, Asiya leaves her one-room house within the shelter premises to bathe the cows and collect dung, while looking out for symptoms of illnesses the bovines might have and making sure that they get fresh feed. "Taking care of cows is the only job I have known. It makes me happy to nurse the ailing cows that come to shelter. Amid riots and the recent murder, I have never felt scared doing this within the gaushala temple premises," she says, when I ask if she senses a communal divide in the capital.
Patrons who manage the gaushala, which is entirely funded by personal donations from 30 villages in and around South Delhi, quip that those wanting to protect cows would not go looking for beef unless politically motivated, or driven by the media. In a veiled reference to the saffron brigade's commitment to the holy cow, Balbir Singh, a frequent visitor, says, "There is a sudden clamour to make us a Hindu rashtra, even distorting history. We have been Hindu Jats before and after Delhi saw its worst Mughal rule under Aurangzeb. No one asked us to convert. Whose cows are they saving by killing people over beef and how is it helping cows?"
77-year-old Singh, a retired farmer from Haryana, shuttles between his Gurgaon home and the rest of NCR to support shelters like this one.Attached to the oldest temple in Kishangarh village, the Mehrauli Gaushala Dehat sees donations from all communities, including the minorities, says Sukhbir Singh, a manager at the shelter. He says the gaushala has never been wary of including non-Hindu communities in any celebration, neither have they felt uncomfortable about their cows being tended to by Muslims.Balbir Singh and Ayub Khan at the cow shelter.
For Asiya Khan and her husband, who started working at the shelter 13 years ago, this is the place that nurtured their family and helped them buy a house in Delhi. A native of Muzaffarnagar, Asiya says she has no roots to go back to after the 2013 riots, and will continue to live and work at the gaushala. The Khans' chores at the shelter bring them Rs 20,000 a month, just enough for the couple and their four young children to get by. Like other Muslims, they keep fasts during Ramzan and celebrate festivals while at the job.
Living in the premises attached to a temple, Asiya says she is conscious of respecting the sentiments of Hindus. "We make the customary sacrifice of a goat for Eid at our own house in Anand Vihar. We don't hide our faith, neither do we want to hurt theirs. I have raised cows all my life, how can I think of hurting one?" she adds.
Religion, theirs or their employers', has never interfered with their commitment to cows. In such a milieu, Asiya and the gaushala's patrons find themselves at a loss to understand what led to the events at Dadri, all in the name of the innocuous cow.
This nondescript gaushala in the capital shelters not only one of India's most loved animals, but also the ganga-jamuni tehzeeb that celebrated ethnic differences as much as similarities. Before it can go looking for any more beef to kill for, the saffron mafia can surely make a trip to the gaushala. Asiya's cow moos in agreement.