Killing cows is illegal in most of India, but rustlers still round up cattle for slaughter.
Crime is a problem in any big country - but in predominantly Hindu India, an underground mafia has embarked on lucrative raids running counter to sacred beliefs: cow rustling.
Despite being a blessed creature in India, cattle theft has grown rampant throughout the country, authorities say. Cows are illegally sold to factories to be processed into leather and, surprisingly, more and more often for beef on the dinner plate.
With tens of thousands of cattle left to roam freely on city streets and in the countryside, rustlers generally pack pick-up trucks with 10 cows or more, with each animal fetching between $35-$90 in the illegal trade.
In a country where about 29.8 percent of the 1.2 billion populace earn only 40 cents a day, a single night's cow catch of $900 makes it a highly lucrative enterprise.
India's cowboys often scout for stray animals during the day and seize them at night. Gangs of rustlers come well prepared and in some instances heavily armed, with some not hesitating to open fire at police vehicles when chased after "lifting" cows, police say.
"They even threw the cattle from their vehicle in front of the chasing police vehicles, thereby forcing the chasing vehicles to stop," said an extensive police report discussing how officers caught a notorious rustler.
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