We knew when coming to India that a huge percentage of the population was vegetarian and many different cultures in India had respect for animals significantly different from that seen in the West. However, we had no idea how animals would be treated on a day to day basis but wanted to keep an eye out and try to get a sense of what an animal's life is like and particularly how farm animals might be treated in India. That said, the following are informal observations based mostly on walks and travelling we have done for purposes not related to animal welfare. We can imagine our views changing over the rest of the time we are here.
The first thing we noticed is that India is teeming with animals. There are cows, pigs, chickens, monkeys and dogs everywhere in cities. Depending on the area, you could almost always see a farm animal of some sort.
It was surprising how comfortably all the animals interacted with each other. We have yet to see any animal engaged in conflict with others of different species, although monkeys did conflict with each other sometimes.
The farmed animals seemed to have a lot of freedom relative to the first world, cows wandered the streets without any person accompanying them and most of the pigs and chickens were not in an enclosure. People sometimes gave the animals food even if the animals were not their own.
Though we can obviously can not directly know what they are experiencing, all of the animals seemed very comfortable with people and vehicles coming quite close to them. They did not seem afraid at any point that we saw. People would drive around animals even if they were standing or sleeping in the middle of a busy road.
Many of the chickens we saw looked very healthy and well treated and seemed more like pets than just food.
Many times we saw people who seemed mad at animals (such as when monkeys stole bags of chips from store vendors or when animals ate someone’s food) but rarely did we see them do anything but shake their first at the animals or shoo them away.
Many of the cows looked skinny and underfed and some seemed sick or injured. Very few of them looked in perfect health. This might have been because many of the animals ate garbage which we heard makes them sick later.
Occasionally we saw people mistreat the animals, such as a man hitting a cow to get her to move or people throwing rocks at a cow to get her to stop eating garage. Given the number of cows and people this was pretty rare percentage wise but we did see it happen more than once.
We saw some egg laying hens in battery cages which were comparable conditions to modern factory farms. These were local hens in a house (not a farm) and the homeowner only seemed to have one cage but many hens were packed into this cage (6-8) and they looked to be in a terrible condition. They looked nothing like the “pet hens” we had seen earlier in color, size and health.
One of our questions going forwards would be how many of the caged hens are there compared to pet chickens. We tried to ask about this when we saw the caged hens, but failed to get a clear answer.
We do not really have an endline conclusion for how we think animals are treated in India relative to the U.S. at this time.