Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2018-19/Evidence for the Implications of the Cow in India

Introduction edit

Predominant confessions by district in India as revealed by the 2011 census. (Hindu-Purple, Muslim-Green, Christian-Blue, Sikh-Pink, Buddhist-Yellow, Others-Grey)

According to the 2011 census, 79.8% of Indians practice Hinduism, with only 6% practicing Buddhism, Jainism, and other faiths[1]. India's second largest religious population is Islam: 14.2% of Indians identified as Muslims, which equates to about 172 million people. Unlike Hindus and other observed religions in India, Muslims do not believe the cow to be sacred, meaning they continue to kill and eat the animal across the country. In the 2014 Indian election, the issue of the cow was more hotly debated than objectively more important problems such as corruption and women's safety.[2] In this chapter, we will address varying issues raised by the cow's status in India from within different disciplines.

Religious and Historical Background edit

A fundamental belief in Hinduism is that all living beings have souls and practicing non-violence to all creatures is the highest ethical value[3].

When the Indo-Aryan migration happened between 1900 BCE to 1400 BCE[4], cows were the primary domesticated animals and a necessary resource for the migrants, serving as both transport and food. The Indus Valley Civilizations started to gather in the Ganges River Basin where soil was fertile and weather was suitable for agriculture, causing the population to boom. Conflict began to break out as loss of forests and natural resources put a strain on the environment and lifestyles of communities. Upperclass citizens from Vedic continued to ignore the suffering of most of population, continuing to kill livestock to satisfy their own appetite. An Anti-Vedic trend challenged this sense of entitlement, opting to protect the welfare of cows and avoid killing them. This movement led to the genesis of Buddhism, the first non-violent religion in India. Despite their initial views, the upperclass from the Vedic readjusted their practices, choosing to protect the cow. This change in beliefs was the start of Hinduism. Similar ideas were also adopted by followers of the Jainist faith; as an ancient Indian religion, Jainism operates on the fundamental beliefs that violence against all living beings, including cattle, is wrong[5].

Varying views on cow veneration were crucial to the formation of India's major religions. Historically, the contrasting ideas put a strain on harmonious living, and this religious input continues to cause problems in the contemporary climate.

The Cow in Politics edit

India is a federal parliamentary democratic republic, with the Centre-Left Indian National Congress and Centre-Right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) forming the two main parties. Currently, BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is most largely represented both in national parliament and at the state level across the country.[6]

Historically, the cow has always been a polarising element of Indian politics. As early as 1870, Sikh sects in Punjab were organising cow protection movements, with the Hindu religious leader Dayananda Saraswati founding a cow protection committee a decade later in 1882.[7] Due to tension caused by contrasting religious views in India, conflicts over cow slaughter have provoked riots for over 120 years: in 1893, more than 100 people were murdered as a result of religious riots, with eight dying in 1966 following a demonstration outside parliament in Delhi when protesting a national ban on cow slaughter.[8] More recently, religious tension continues to cause problems, with cow vigilante violence targeting India’s Muslim population. Between 2010 and 2017, it was reported that there were 63 attacks[9] caused by tension relating to the sanctity of the cow in India.

This swelling has been attributed to the surge of Hindu Nationalism in India, influenced by the BJP’s election.[10] Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been vocal regarding his views on the importance of the cow, going as far as to promote using cow urine as a medicinal product.[11] In this way, he has encouraged many vigilante groups to continue fiercely protecting the cow, with many Hindu Nationalists claiming to feel “empowered” by Modi and his party.[12] After winning in 2014, the BJP has encouraged groups with strict laws concerning the cow: in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, BJP chief officer Yogi Adityanath began his tenure by enforcing a strict lockdown on slaughterhouses.[9]

The political tension continues to evolve as the cow continues to be a huge campaign strategy for the BJP and Centre-Left Congress alike. The BJP are seeking to replace the tiger with a cow as the national animal of India.[13] Congress is also seeking to capitalise on cow welfare as their main campaigning tactic for drawing voters. In the state of Madhya Pradesh, Congress declared that each village within the state boundaries will have a cow shelter. In an attempt trump this, the BJP stated that cow ministry will be available to Madhya Pradesh residents.[14] It’s clear that the cow continues to be an incredibly vital yet polarising aspect of Indian politics.

The Cow in Industry edit

Fashion Industry edit

With India being a huge exporter of fashion goods for high street chains like Zara and fashion houses such as Armani alike, a 2017 crackdown on leather use proved a huge problem for many designers relying on Indian factories for their production. India is the world's second largest producer of footwear and leather garments, selling $13 billion worth of goods in the 2016 tax year.[15] The BJP ruled that using cows and buffalo for leather is strictly forbidden; the effects have proven devastating for factory workers across India, who face redundancy, as well as foreign companies. The leather industry is predominantly ran by India's Muslim population, and the clamp down has caused greater religious division and tension nationwide,[16] with Muslim workers risking their lives in illegal abattoirs to export leather and maintain small businesses.

Beef industry edit

In 2016–2017 165.4 million tonnes were created in India, the highest in the world. Additionally, India is predominantly dependent on bull power for agriculture and transportation. Hence the cow is seen as so valuable as it fulfils so many human needs in India, which leads to the second highest cattle population of 190 million.[17] However, this huge number of cattle causes societal unrest towards those who kill cows for meat that do not give any economic value anymore. Non-producing dairy cows and infertile cows get sold and end up in the slaughterhouses. Additionally, it is well known that any ban on slaughterhouses or the discontinuation of this industry would affect Muslims and Dalits the most, as these poorest mostly work in this industry. It would also create illegal slaughterhouses and unsafe labour environments, creating an even bigger wealth disparity. Even now, people that had anything to do with this industry are still murdered, beating up and publicly hung.[18] The Indian government wants to maintain its income and export on cow industries, yet not dressing the social and religious implications.

Conclusion edit

Given that the economic market is so big on using the parts of the cow, but also the political and religious unrest surrounding this topic, it is valuable to look at this issue from an interdisciplinary perspective. The ideal solution could be found by reusing non-producing cows in other manner such as fertilizing dung[19] and avoiding the slaughterhouse, decreasing the societal unrest.

References edit

  1. Press Information Bureau Government of India Ministry of Home Affairs. 25 August 2015. RGI releases Census 2011 data on Population by Religious Communities. Available from:
  2. Staples J. Appropriating the Cow: Beef and Identity Politics in Contemporary India. In: Bhushi K, editor. Farm to Fingers: The Culture and Politics of Food in Contemporary India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2017. p. 58–79.
  3. Marvin Harris. India's sacred cow, Anthropology: contemporary perspectives. 6th edition, Editors: Phillip Whitten & David Hunter, Scott Foresman, ISBN 0-673-52074-9, 201–204
  4. Axel Michaels. 2004, Hinduism. Past and present, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 32-36. Available from:
  5. Susan J. Armstrong, Richard G. Botzier, 18 November 2016. The Animal Ethics Reader. ISBN 978-1-317-42197-9. Available from: p. 44.
  6. Graham BD. The Jana Sangh as a Hindu nationalist rally. In: Hindu Nationalism and Indian Politics: The Origins and Development of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1990. p. 94–157. (Cambridge South Asian Studies).
  7. Bauman, Chad M. Pentecostalism in the Context of Indian History and Politics. Oxford University Press, 2015. Available from:
  8. Soutik Biswas, BBC News [Internet]. Why the humble cow is India's most polarising animal, 15 October 2015. Available from:
  9. a b Amy Kazmin. Indian PM distances himself from cow vigilante attacks. Financial Times. 17 July, 2017. Available from:
  10. Soutik Biswas [Internet]. Why stopping India's vigilante killings will not be easy. 10 July 2017. Available from:
  11. Hugh Tomlinson. Indians told cow urine is health drink. The Times, 23 March 2018. Available from:
  12. Iain Marlow and Bibhudatta Pradhan [Internet]. Cow-Saving Vigilantes are a Sign of Political Rising Political Risk in India. 20 April 2017. Available from:
  13. Parihar, Rohit. “Gau Rakshika from Rajasthan Wants Modi to Declare Cow India's National Animal.” India Today, 2017.Available from:
  14. “Despite Four Agencies on Bovine Welfare, Rajasthan to Set up Cow Ministry Soon [Politics and Nation].” The Economic Times, New Delhi, 2014. Available from:
  15. 9. Global fashion giants fret over India cow crackdown: industry. Eastern Eye 2017 Jun 02(1407):17.
  16. “How Many Ways Can You Skin a Cow? In Hindu India, Plenty --- Thriving Leather Industry Relies On Muslims, `Fallen' Cattle; Next, a Bovine Pension Plan?” Wall Street Journal, by By Daniel Pearl, New York, N.Y., 2001, p. B.1. Available from:
  17. [ “Role of Livestock in Indian Economy.” Scheduled Tribes in India – Vikaspedia]
  18. Alam, Afroz “'Cow Economics' Are Killing India's Working Class.” The Huffington Post,, 22 June 2017
  19. Hedge, Narayan. 1995, Economic Gains as Primary Considerations against ban on Cow Slaughter. Yojana (Marathi) Dec. Vol. : 23-27.