Man Vs Cow: Solve the Puzzle


The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Lok Sabha election manifesto mentions the cow for the first time. It is listed under “good governance,” a subsection under “economy,” which outlines the economic importance of the cow and its progeny for animal husbandry and dairying.


BJP’s manifesto mentions the cow under “animal husbandry and fisheries” and talks of improving livestock breeds with a thrust on genetic improvement of indigenous cattle.

2009 and 2014

The language of the debate changes. For the first time, the cow is listed under “Preserving Cultural Heritage” alongside Ram Mandir, Ram Setu, and the river Ganga.

In the last few decades, several Indian states have enacted legislations banning cow slaughter. More recently, under the BJP we have seen a rampant imposition of bans on the sale of cattle for slaughter, on the sale and consumption of beef, and a dramatic increase in vigilantism targeting marginalised and minority groups whose food cultures and livelihoods depend on the cow. Article 48 of the Constitution prohibits slaughter of cows, calves, and other drought and milch cattle, but this is not legally enforceable as it falls under the Directive Principles of State Policy.

While the directive principles focus on organising agriculture and improving animal husbandry and not on religious sentiments, the Constituent Assembly debates from the 1940s show us that the demand for protection of the cow also had clear religious and communal undertones.

When it comes to the question of cow in contemporary India, we find a recurring triad:

In this kit, we present the beef ban and cow slaughter debate that has unfolded in the pages of the EPW over the last 50 years. Click on the puzzle pieces below to explore 8 important questions about the cow in India.



How old is the notion of the sacred cow?

  • Mother
  • Sacrality
  • History
  • Vedas
  • Cruelty

Vedic literature abounds with references to the cow—in the form of various names for it, its economic value, its position as a symbol of wealth,and its ritualistic function in Vedic sacrifice. The doctrine of ahimsa which came into being at the end of the Vedic period also, at first, did not have an explicit agenda pertaining to the protection of cows. In the following period, the idea of the sanctity of the cow was advocated by the Buddhist and Jains. The doctrine of the sacred cow became established by the time the Mahabharata was completed, around 4 century AD and with the Puranas, the idea began to get diffused among the Hindu community. The colonial period saw the idea manifested in the oppositional stance taken by the Hindus and the Muslims, leading to riots, bandhs, and bans.

Click on the links below to read the articles.

The Holy Cow

Anand Teltumbde | 2015

The Sanctity of the Cow in Hinduism

W Norman Brown | 1964


Why is the cow sacred?

  • Productivity
  • Mother
  • Hinduism
  • Ahimsa

The female body has, for long, been the site for inscription of the narratives of nation, culture, and language. The maternal metaphor has even been extended to regions and rivers in order to form a sense of a shared identity among people. The cow, similarly, becomes a mother embodying several functions: of fertility, domesticity, wealth, and religion. The cow becomes one to be possessed and protected.

Click on the links below to read the articles.


Whose cow is it anyway?

  • Livelihood
  • Caste
  • Hinduism
  • Agriculture
  • Animal Rights

In the period after Independence, the cow was taken up as an important indicator for economic and agricultural growth in state policy. The logic of the sanctity of the cow was employed to talk about cattle population and its impact on the rural economy. At the same time, advocates of science and the rational method have brought in concerns regarding animal cruelty in the context of pointless lab testing. They also highlight that in the Indian context, animal rights activism often has communal undertones. Meanwhile, the Hindu right brings in the aspect of ahimsa with reference to the cow as the mother.

In the tussle for and against banning cow slaughter, what is often forgotten is that the beef eating castes are often the cattle rearing castes as well.

Click on the links below to read the articles.

Cow Dung Models

V M Dandekar | 1969

Of Holy Cows and Sacred Science

Vimal Balasubrahmanyan | 1994

Against Cow Slaughter Ban

Megha Bahl, Sharmila Purkayastha | 2015


Is it better to have a hungry cow than a hungry man?

  • Cruelty
  • Caste
  • Minorities
  • Livelihood
  • Food Cultures

Farmers and cattle rearers sell their animals for various reasons—in the event of their inability to maintain them due to shortage of resources, if the animals are old or diseased, and/or if they wish to purchase other cattle. While the question of precedence of human rights over animal rights is a complex one, in practice there is a complete disregard for the condition of cows by the state. Gaushalas are few and far between and in a state of neglect. Even when they are set up, the upkeep of a huge number of unproductive animals is an expense that is likely to eat into other subsidies. A large number of productive animals also die due to scarcity of water and fodder each year, thereby depriving their owners of both food and livelihood.

Those who survive on the business of selling, killing, and skinning unproductive animals are also under threat.

Click on the links below to read the articles.

Meat and Milk Sector

Chandrashekhar G Ranade | 2014

Where Are the Cow Protectors?

Bharat Dogra | 2017


What is the relationship between cow-culling and the animal husbandry sector?

  • Meat production
  • Milk production
  • Agriculture
  • Livestock Adjustment
  • Mechanism
  • Animal Husbandry

Does the increase in culling of cows lead to an improvement in the production of milk and meat? How is the bovine population in a state maintained at the optimum level? Why do farmers sell their cows? Will the agricultural sector in India be able to sustain itself if no cows are culled?

Click on the links below to read the articles.

Regarding Beef Ban

Chandrashekhar G Ranade | 2015

More Regarding Beef Ban

Samares Kumar Das | 2015


What has been the shift in the approach of political parties towards the cow question?

  • Productivity
  • Heritage
  • Agriculture
  • Hinduism
  • Science
  • Environment

In recent years, several Indian states have passed legislations for the protection of the cow. The severity of provisions has ranged from punitive measures like seven years of imprisonment and ₹5000 in fines, to empowering of “competent authority” to “enter and inspect any premises” where banned activities are suspected to be taking place. While the Ramjanmabhumi symbol still remains central to the Hindu nationalist agenda, political parties are constantly on the lookout for new symbols such as the cow which strengthen their cultural claims. Compounding the problem is the adoption on a pseudo environmentalist stance which opposes culling of cows on the grounds of animal rights, invokes a pristine past, and equates modern science with ancient Hindu wisdom. The different approaches taken by states like Kerala, West Bengal, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, and Goa to the question of cow slaughter or beef ban brings back an old question for federalism because interests of the state and the centre come into conflict.

Click on the links below to read the articles.

Politics–Well Served by the Cow

Uncategorised | 1979

Law and Identity

Editorial | 2017

Cow Slaughter Again

Weekly Notes | 1953

BJP Cow as a Political Symbol

Ernesto Noronha | 1994


What does the Constitution say about the cow?

  • Constitution
  • Directive Principles
  • Right to Life
  • Secularism
  • Right to Privacy

The cow is protected under Article 48 of the Constitution, which says that the State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle. How does this hold up against the fundamental right to privacy, the right to freedom of religion, and the inherent right to choose one’s food? What happens to the notion of secularism propounded in the Preamble when those consuming this food or dependent on it for livelihood are targeted based on their religious and caste identity?

Click on the links below to read the articles.

Court Rulings: Of Eggs and Beef

Imtiaz Ahmad | 2005

Beef and the Constitution

Haresh Jagtiani | 2016

Holy Cow, Privacy, and Unholy Laws

Faizan Mustafa, Vivek Mukherjee | 2017


Who is really at the receiving end of cruelty?

  • Violence
  • Ahimsa
  • Caste
  • Agriculture
  • Minorities

The nutritional value of beef and its low price compared to other meats are factors that influence its consumption. Consumption of beef, while not exclusive to these groups, has been the mainstay of food cultures of Muslims, Dalits, and Christians in India. This food culture is closely linked to caste and poverty. A clampdown on the purchase and sale of cows for slaughter while adversely affecting livelihoods, also threatens people’s right to food. With the state turning a blind eye to the violence perpetrated in the wake of this issue, religious minorities and Dalits are increasingly under attack in India. There is an attempt to validate the cultural capital hoarded by middle- and upper-class Hindu elites (many of whom are also meat eaters), to invisibilise caste, and to define what makes a Hindu in very narrow terms.

Click on the links below to read the articles.

Looking for Hope

Sameera Khan | 2017

Maharashtra's Beef Ban

Jyoti Punwani | 2015

Dalit Protest in Gujarat

Anand Teltumbde | 2016

Cow Politics in Modi's Land

Editorial | 2016

  • Vedic Literature
  • End of Vedic period
  • Beginning of Christian Era
  • 4th Century AD/Completion of Mahabharata
  • 1831
  • 1887
  • 1890
  • 1893
  • 1917
  • 1923
  • 1925
  • 1946—50
  • 1953
  • 1955
  • 1956
  • 1958
  • 1960
  • 1964
  • 1970
  • 1976
  • 1977
  • 1978
  • 1979
  • 1991
  • 1994
  • 1999
  • 2002
  • 2003
  • 2004
  • 2005
  • 2009
  • 2010
  • 2011
  • 2012
  • 2014
  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • Drawn from articles in the EPW

Vedic Literature

  • Central role of the cow in Vedic ritual sacrifice.

End of Vedic period

  • The cow as food and as an article of economic value.
  • Ahimsa in Buddhist and Jain doctrine.

Beginning of Christian Era

  • Equivocal mention of sanctity of the cow.

4th Century AD/Completion of Mahabharata

  • Strengthening of the sacred cow doctrine.


  • Incident involving the Young Bengals.


  • Bombay Society for the Preservation of Cows and Buffaloes established.


  • Meeting of the Society for the Protection of Cows, Bombay.
  • Public discussion between Muslims and Hindus on the subject of killing cows in Surat.


  • Hindu-Muhammedan Riot recorded in the Bombay Gazetteer.


  • Gandhi responds to cow protection campaigns of the Gaurakshini Sabha.


  • Bill on 'Prohibition of Cow Slaughter' moved in assemble, but withdrawn due to opposition from the majority.


  • Gandhi writes in Young India.


  • Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly express discomfort with the inclusion of the cow into the constitution because the Muslim community is solely held accountable for cow slaughter. They suggest dichotomy in the proposed article because modernising animal husbandry requires getting rid of unproductive animals. It is pointed out that not all Muslims are beef consumers (or Hindus non-consumers) and that the cow is as useful to the Muslim farmer as to the Hindu farmer. Since the fundamental rights accord rights to human beings, and not animals, there is an impasse and prohibition of cow slaughter is included in the Constitution, but under Directive Principles of State Policy.


  • State ministers meeting organised by the central government to ascertain view on cow slaughter.


  • Total ban on cow slaughter in Uttar Pradesh.


  • Total ban on cattle slaughter imposed by Bihar legislature.


  • Supreme court judgment on cow slaughter.


  • Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCAA).
  • Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1960 passed by Odisha Legislative Assembly.


  • Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964 passed by Karnataka.


  • Academic debate on cow slaughter initiated by V M Dandekar and K N Raj.


  • Cow slaughter ban in Maharashtra.
  • Inclusion of the word 'secular' in the Preamble by the Forty-second Amendment.


  • Prohibition of Cow Slaughter and Animal Preservation Act passed by Andhra Pradesh.
  • President's assent to the 1976 cow slaughter ban.


  • Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act passed by Daman and Diu.


  • Vinoba Bhave's indefinite fast to demand ban on cow slaughter.


  • Ban on frog dissection in Gujarat.


  • Delhi Agricultural Cattle Prevention Bill.


  • Mention of cow in the BJP manifesto under good governance, outlining the economic importance of the cow and its progeny.


  • 5 Dalit men killed in Haryana.


  • Launch of National Dairy Development Board's Perspective 2010 programme.


  • Mention of cow in the BJP manifesto in relation to improvement of livestock breeds and the need for a central legislation to protect the cow.


  • SC upholds legislation banning cow slaughter.
  • "Eggs should not be sold in public places," says Chhattisgarh HC.
  • SC upholds Gujarat Cow Slaughter Act.


  • Cow listed as cultural heritage in BJP Manifesto.
  • Jallikattu Act in Tamil Nadu.


  • Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Protection of Cattle Bill.


  • Beef Festival in English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.


  • Amendment to the Gau-Vansh Vadh Pratishedh (Sanshodhan) Act in Madhya Pradesh. Provision for harsh punishment and granting of arbitrary powers to the police.


  • BJP manifesto lists Cow and its Progeny under Cultural Heritage.
  • Beef Festival at Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC).


  • Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Bill passed in Haryana.
  • President's assent to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment Bill) 1995.
  • Murder of Mohd Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh.


  • Public flogging of Dalit men in Una, Gujarat.
  • Murder of Praveen Poojary by gaurakshaks.
  • Chalo Una Rally by the Dalit community.
  • Chalo Udupi Rally to protest Poojary's murder.


  • Amendment to PCAA.
  • Tamil Nadu Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules, 2017.
  • Murder of 15 year-old Junaid Khan on a train between Delhi and Mathura.
  • Not in My Name Protests across India.


Curated by Sohnee Harshey

Illustrations by Chaitanya Mandugula

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