When multiple debates on cow vigilantism have, in a way, ostracised Muslims in certain regions in the name of animal rights, a beacon of hope is burning bright in a small town in Punjab.
33-year-old Salma runs an animal rescue centre tending to injured, ageing and abandoned cows and bulls in the Ludhiana district. Located in Payal, the shelter is named 'Muslim Gaushala' and has been home to cattle in need of help for the last 11 years.
According to Salma, it all started when she rescued an old, injured bull in August 2007 and brought it home. A while later the bull, Nandi, was joined by Gauri, an abandoned cow.
She is supported by her father Nek Mohammad and aunt Tejo, both of whom pitch in with their pensions to pay for the expenses needed to run the gaushala in Payal.
'Caring for animals has nothing to do with religion'
Muslims make up a minuscule percentage of the town's population. When asked why she named the shelter 'Muslim Gaushala', Salma, a vegetarian, says there is a general perception of Muslims being violent towards animals, which she intends to change.
The 33-year-old is unmarried since many marriage proposals were nipped in the bud when the suitors discovered that she runs a gaushala. But this does not bother the young woman, who has said that she will only marry a man who agrees to run the animal rescue shelter with her.
Though her good work hasn't earned her the respect of the other Muslim families living in the town, who don't interact much with the family. But Salma takes it in her stride.
Does caring for cows make me a lesser Muslim?" she asks, adding that whenever people from the community interact with her, they suggest shutting down the shelter.
Salma laments the fact that animals are milked for all their worth when they are healthy but when they get injured or get old, they are abandoned.
The issue is beyond religion
Salma's neighbours, who are Hindu and Sikh, complain about the smell coming from the shelter. "They don't care about how much pain the animals are in. This is the reason I have stopped naming the cattle after Hindu gods and goddesses," says Salma.
A police complaint too was filed against her when she buried five animals instead of giving them away for skinning. She wanted to bury them at the carcass disposal ground but being denied the permission to do so, they had to settle with the grounds on the property instead.
"My work is apolitical, unlike politicians who use cows to divert attention from the real issues affecting people," rounds off Salma.