India’s Horrific Dairy Farms: Can You Stomach This?

We Indians tend to seek and find God in everything, from stones to rivers to trees and even books. It is not surprising, then, that we see God in the gentle eyes of a cow.

Which makes it all the more ironic, then, that India is the world’s largest consumer of milk and milk products.

I’ve often tried talking to friends, families and relatives — usually not successfully — when they insist that cows do not suffer, or die, to give us milk.  Well, you know how they say a picture– or a video– is worth a thousand words?

A discussion on an Indian animal rights listserv sent me to this new video from PETA India that documents the abuses in the Indian dairy industry. I hope every one of you who loves milk products — or thinks they cannot live without cheese or ghee or yogurt– will take a moment to watch it. And think about it.

I remember the moment I decided I wouldn’t eat meat again: Desi and I were hiking past  a pasture in Costa Rica’s beautiful Monteverde valley. We were the only humans around, and as we walked past the fence, dozens of cows trotted toward us and then just stood there and watched us, their eyes large and soulful and full of curiosity. It made me never want to ever hurt one again.

So next time you feel like some dairy, look into the eyes of a cow. Or watch this video. I couldn’t embed it because it’s been flagged by some YouTube “users” (read dairy industry minions), but you can watch it at PETA India’s Web site right here.

Remember, cow’s milk is completely unnecessary for humans. Vegetables and grains provide our bodies with more than enough protein, and alternatives like soymilk are easily available everywhere now, including in India. There really is no good reason why any of us should be consuming milk– or curd or ghee or butter or yogurt or paneer– anymore.


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  1. says

    Commercial dairy farms everywhere in the world are horrific. I have found it very difficult to convince everyone, even my husband that giving up meat, milk and the rest is the way to go. If I talk to friends about finding alternatives to milk, cheese, curds, icecream, indian sweets and so on, they just think i am being an extremist.
    Though I am turning vegan, the message i send across to my friends and family, are to find ethical farms, with pasture fed, well cared for and ethically raised cows, and same for meat, eggs, chicken and everything else.
    Do check out my post about where you can find ethical food here I will keep adding more links.

    Keep up the good work and keep writing!

  2. says

    I saw this video. It is gut-wrenching and very sad, to say the least.

    But, I’m not sure turning vegan is a solution to stop such cruelty. However, I do think that drinking milk from grass-fed, local dairy farm cows makes all the difference.

    There is only a certain percentage of people in India who buy milk from such dairy farms or packeted milk, most others buy milk from their local doodhwala, I think. While I’m not as informed as you about this issue, I do think veganism isn’t necessarily the only answer to this problem.

    Just my two cents here.

  3. Anonymous says

    Dear Vaishali
    I don’t think I can see a video. It’s far difficult to convince specially Indian families about not consuming milk or not to force others to consume it. Milk products show all the love that they shower on us. I too face social challenges and people think that I am thinking too much about all this. Let’s hope after reading your article and watching the video people see the innocence in cow’s eyes before consuming dairy and meat.

  4. says

    I have recently given up milk and its products mainly due to adulterated milk freely doing the rounds in the markets here. Had no idea what the cows go thru during milking … always thought it was a simple process. Thank you for this eyeopener.

  5. says

    To A and N… veganism is not the only answer, but the most effective one. A decrease in consumption(demand) leads to a decrease in supply. I know the human world will never be meat and dairy-free (and I’m not sure that it is meant to be), but I do know this: we are destroying our planet and causing unnecessary pain due to over-consumption. The more vegans we have, the better off everyone will be, because there will always be people who refuse to even cut back in their destructive ways. I want to be part of the solution rather than the problem, which is the reason I am vegan.

  6. says

    Hi Richa, I agree that it’s difficult to convince people and that buying more humane products is a step forward at the very least. The biggest stumbling block is that people somehow can’t wrap their heads around the fact that vegan food is delicious– they are worried they’ll be eating bland stuff for the rest of their life. I find the best way to fight these ideas is to cook for these people :) I will check out your post.

    A and N, I love Karma’s reply, and I’ll add this: I am not convinced that animals are made for us to exploit, even in a “humane” fashion. Vegans are living proof that eating animal-free is very possible and also very healthy. Even on the more “humane” farms, cows have little freedom and their lives are given over to serve us humans. I’d rather not be part of that.
    Also, I don’t agree that most Indians buy from the local doodhwala. That may be true in some rural areas but I grew up in Bombay, and there– as in most cities– most people rely on packeted milk. Also, as factory farms drive down prices, the small-scale doodhwalas are going to be wiped out for sure.

    Sanyukta, thanks.

    Anonymous, Thanks. It’s true that it is difficult to convince people now, but the growing number of vegans on this planet is proof that we are headed in the right direction. Don’t lose hope– we’ll get there :)

    Sharmila, thanks.

    DJ, I agree with you. Go vegan! It’s a win-win-win for us, the planet, and the animals.

    AMA, I think those of us who care have to keep at it. Persistence pays! :)

  7. says

    Long gone those days when families bought milk from doodhvalah even in small towns and in villages. Operation Flood (milk flood that is) has captured market so much that its hard to get doodhvalah to sell you milk.

    As a child I remember in summer it was difficult to get extra milk. These days you can get as much milk as you want any time and any day in most of India. I have even seen this in smallest villages.

    Being vegan will help for sure. I am trying my best to be one. I know its not difficult as I was one few years ago. Its another story why I had to make the shift.

    Thank you Vaishali for such a great article.

  8. says

    Kudos to the vegans out there.. I find it a very difficult choice to make. However, videos like this surely have an impact and motivate people to think about their choices and its consequences on these poor animals. I have one point to make – while I agree mass production is very exploitative of animals, I disagree that your local doodhwala was a paragon of virtue and humane treatment of animals. He had his livelihood to make and while I don’t wish to get into gory details here, it suffices to say that young male calves were regularly deprived of milk that rightfully was theirs. While the problems are only getting worse with higher demand, they were always there to start with in a dairy dependent society.

  9. says

    Just wish to share this quote from Stephanie Ernst that sums up the case for animal rights at a very fudamental level: “Animal rights, at its heart, is the most unextreme philosophy I can imagine. It is about nonviolence. It is about compassion. It is about not harming and not causing suffering and not killing when we don’t have to. That’s it. It is really, truly that simple.”

    Yet why do humans find it so challengingly difficult to understand the fundamental doctrine of “compassion” in its entirety, have endless discussions trying to refute another sentient being’s right to safety and right to life! What hypocrites!

  10. says

    I’m not going to watch the video, since every time I watch a video like this I feel so much pain because of their suffering, the images haunt me for months, even years (a small group from the Biology Program in my early years of college dedicated a week to the animals hurt by the cosmetic industry, posting big pictures of the animal suffering everywhere, even today I remember them, it was more than 12 years ago), but I do as much as I can to let the people know that our health and our well-being must not depend upon animal suffering: we must protect them, not hurting and killing them!The Nature offer us plenty of other ways to keep us truly healthy, body, mind and soul, and none of them involves hurting animals.

    Since I returned to Portugal I’ve been living very difficult situations: like Richa said in her comment I couldn’t convince (yet, I hope!) anyone that we really don’t need dairy products/meat. My friends freak out (literally) every time that I tell them I don’t eat meat, or eggs, or dairy, or fish. Their answers: “What the hell do you eat??”, the basis here is meat and fish, lots of milk.
    Even with my parents, at the beginning there were a lot of discussions about food and what they think it’s good for me. It’s more calm now, they accepted it and slowly they are introducing other things in their own food regime, like more vegetables, lentils, beans and so on, in order to decrease their fish and meat consumption.
    The Portuguese people change their food regime only by doctor demand because serious health problems. But, even using only this way, I can feel in the air some change, the mind is opening, slowly, but it’s opening and a proof of this is that TV advertisement (the most powerful one) became very strong in the last couple of years: the dairy industry has gone completely crazy about this: their advertisements are longer and they try to convince us that milk the best option to our health, using a lot of specific and informed words.
    There is a brand of ‘normal mayo’ that says in their advertisement that their eggs are from chickens that grow free on the field. I never thought I could hear such a thing in an advertisement. The extreme of this situation is that big big brand of burgers (MD) is saying that we are not well informed about their meat, and asked the public the go to their factories and check it for themselves. They had the support of one of the most important tv channels.
    If we want to change we have to face a lot of criticism, we need a lot of courage and inner strength, and we aren’t, yet, able to see that behind all of this we are sustaining and support the suffering and destruction of other lives that do deserve much respect, love and care, just like us.

  11. Anonymous says

    One of the things I truly love about your blog is how you share the beauty and richness (not just culinary!) of Indian cultures. However, you don’t hesitate to critique its less savory (pun not intended) aspects. As a woman who immigrated to the the US I appreciate this. It drives me crazy when immigrants or, it happens more so among the American-born, become apologists for unpleasant aspects of their grandparents or parents’ cultures.

    Obviously, plenty of Americans are the same way about US culture. We should ALL be brave enough to discuss the beauty-as well as the less laudable-aspects of the cultures we come from and that we belong to. Love, love your blog.


  12. Anonymous says


    I’m a vegan and I just had one question to ask you. As vegans, do we consider ourselves morally superior?

    I thought this line echoed the moral superiority that we vegans seem to have over meat-eaters and vegetarians : I hope every one of you who loves milk products — or thinks they cannot live without cheese or ghee or yogurt– will take a moment to watch it. And think about it.

    I don’t disagree with you over anything here :) Like I said, I’m a vegan and moved from being a meat-eater exactly for these reasons alone.

    But the way you have written makes it seem pretty hurtful. Its like people in India (living there) telling the rest of us living abroad that they should come back and help instead of offering sympathies. And that is not the right thing to do, right?

    Otherwise, great blog and great post. I’m lurking after reading this blog for over 6 months now.

  13. says

    Mints, you raise a great point– thanks for sharing it.

    Inji, well said! Doodhwallahs are certainly no paragons– as you point out, they are businessmen too who are more interested in the bottomline than in the welfare of the cows.

    Amrita, I love that quote from Stephanie, and thank you for sharing it with us. Hugs.

    Anonymous, yes, they are– which is what makes India’s rampant dairy consumption at heavy cost to cows such an irony.

    Daisy, thanks for sharing your thoughts– I feel so glad you’re out there in Portugal representing us vegans and speaking out for a cruelty-free lifestyle! :) Nothing’s harder to change than people’s food habits– I find though that even those who mock us vegans are usually just on the defensive because they know deep inside that killing sentient animals for food is wrong.

    Sylvia, Thank you for your kind and thoughtful words. True love is not blind love :)

    Rachana, There’s one big difference– you consciously have decided to donate your milk, while the cow has no choice. I don’t think animals were put on earth so we could exploit them. We do so simply because we can. At a very basic level, that’s completely wrong. So no, as someone who believes animals should not be made to work for us, I would not consume cow’s milk even if the cow was not treated badly.
    On your second question, it is possible to eat without butter and ghee in restaurants. When I travel in India, I always ask if there is ghee or butter in the food, and if they say yes, I ask if they can make it without it for me. Usually they agree. And you’d be surprised– because ghee and butter are expensive, fewer restaurants actually use them. In my experience, most just use oil.
    Thanks for your kind words, and for delurking :)

    Hi Anonymous, thanks also for delurking, although I’d have loved a name :)
    To answer your question, no, I am not saying vegans are morally superior because each one of us — I’m sure– has plenty of faults we can work on, just like anyone else. I know I do. But I do believe that vegans think more about the food and lifestyle choices they make, and work to make decisions each day that don’t hurt animals or the environment, so that does make us more conscious human beings. When I ask people to think about their food choices, that’s all I’m hoping they’ll be– more conscious.
    I write about India for two reasons– it’s the country of my birth and close to me, and also because I hold it to a high standard because we’ve always had a long legacy of compassion toward animals. I am not asking India to ape the West– on the contrary, I am hoping it will abandon the practices of the West, like factory farming practices, and go back to the compassionate tradition of their ancestors. Remember, almost a century ago, Gandhi was almost a vegan.

  14. says

    like many others said, even i do not think going vegan is the only solution. we Indians cannot imagine milkless food. and Hindu dharma accepts milk as most satvic food. having religious approval, or rather insistence and part of our culture for thousands of years, it is rather difficult even to imagine a milkless food.

    but the possible option which i think is, every family should rear cows. if it is not individually possible, they can do it collectively. that way, they can avoid cruelty to animals, and also get quality milk.

    but turning vegan is an individual option which is very much possible, while rearing cows being a collective effort is a bit difficult to realize. but where there is a will there is a way.

  15. says

    Fieryblaster, there are thousands of vegans in India and they are living proof that Indians can imagine and eat milkless food. As for all the religious reasons you raise, someone truly religious would shun food that comes from hurting innocent animals.
    People raising animals on their own is not really within the realm of possibility, especially in cities– besides, animals are not made for our use, so using milk from “humanely” raised cows is still not the best option– not when there are all kinds of alternatives to dairy available.

  16. says

    Vaishali, I am so glad you wrote about this. We show this video often at many of our Mumbai vegans meetings, and people cannot even see it! And animals have to endure all the pain! They have to go through it all! Animal milk is the cause of many modern day diseases. Once you give up dairy products, for many people there is remarkable improvement in health.This is good enough reason to give up dairy. I can write many pages on how bad is dairy….We are Mumbai India. Thank you for this post.

  17. says

    Hi Vaishali

    Great post about dairy cows in India and I cannot agree with you more.

    To all the people who support dairy products from ethically raised farm cows, please note that cows can only produce milk(even with all the hormones pumped in)for a few years after which they stop.
    And it is not like as though they are very old at this stage, they are usually only around 6-7 years old when their life expectancy is 20-25 years.

    So what happens to them after they stop producing milk?
    Do you think the farm owners will take care of them until they die?
    Certainly not!

    Those cows which cannot produce any more milk are either SOLD to the leather factories or to the non-Hindu butchers where they are slaughtered.

    And coming to the leather factories in India, it is far worse than in the factory farms.
    You can watch this video to find out(it is about fur,leather and wool so you have to forward it a bit to watch the part on leather):

    Bottom-line is, do not raise any cows for milk!
    Almost all the cows that end up in leather factories are exhausted cows from dairy farms. So how can you say that it is still ethical??

    PS: I find it extremely ironic that in India, Hindus do not eat beef yet wear cow leather; both in which the cow was slaughtered.

  18. says

    Thank you for giving us food for thought Vaishali!

    And, no A_N – a huge majority of the population in urban India consume packaged milk, only a small percentage buy from the local milkman anymore.

    Not that the buffaloes and cows with the local milkman are well cared for anyway – they are left to roam the city streets and forage in garbage dumps through the day and are “herded” back in the evenings for milking. They are often hit by vehicles and die – plus the garbage they eat is so unsanitary and unhealthy, they often swallow plastic bags along with the garbage and die.

  19. says

    Condition of dairy farms is very critical in India. Dairy owners often use wrong medicines for their animals. They often mix water in milk. In some villages situation is somehow different then cities. But people hardly understand.

  20. says

    OMG! I just looked at the pictures. How sad that this is the treatment meted out to our most revered creatures. I find it difficult to convince people too. It is something that must come as a self-realization, Vaishali. My husband consumes non-veg. As a person he is more sensitive to people than I am. Try as much as I did, I still cannot bring him to realize the cruelty involved. It is sad but fact is we just think we are above other creatures and take it as a right to oppress and make them suffer!

    Someday I hope compassion and empathy overrides every other emotion. It is the only solution to all the problems in the world.

  21. says

    Although I wasn’t born in India, I greatly respect what Gandhi taught, and he had this to say regarding the cow:

    “The central fact of Hinduism however is cow protection. Cow protection to me is one of the most wonderful phenomena in human evolution. It takes the human being
    beyond his species. The cow to me means the entire subhuman world. Man through the cow is enjoined to realise his identity with all that lives. Why the cow was selected
    for apotheosis is obvious to me. The cow was in India the best companion. She was the giver of plenty. Not only did she give milk, but she also made agriculture possible. The cow is a poem of pity. One reads pity in the gentle
    animal. She is the mother to millions of Indian mankind. Protection of the cow means protection of the whole dumb
    creation of God. The ancient seer, whoever he was, began with the cow. The appeal of the lower order of
    creation is all the more forcible because it is speechless. Cow protection is the gift of Hinduism to the world. And Hinduism will live so long as there are Hindus to protect the cow.” – Teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, p. 290,291

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