Communities in Conflict: Fighting for the ‘Sacred Cow'

Elizabeth Thomas


Cow slaughter has been a long-standing issue in India leading to conflicts and disturbances. It resurfaced again in recent times when Anti Cow-Slaughter Bills were introduced in various Indian states such as Karnataka, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh. There has been a common framework determining the debate about the issue and the conflicts surrounding it: the colonial state dealt with the issue as a problem of opposing and clashing beliefs of Hindus and Muslims, while present day academics, intellectuals and activists treat it as a problem of ‘communalization’, a result of fundamentalist attitudes. Both refer to the religious belief of the ‘sacredness’ of the cow, a value held by some among Hindus, and how that gets used, interpreted, manipulated. Both colonial and postcolonial frames treat cow protection as a normative injunction for the Hindus. This paper argues that this common assumption ignores many of the contradictions visible in the Hindu attitude towards cow protection when seen as an essential religious belief. It argues that statements about worshipping the cow was part of a set of ethical dispositions inculcated in various groups rather than a religious norm or practice. It argues that the conflicts around the
issue are a result of the 19th century transformation of practices to represent religious beliefs of communities.

Keywords: Cow Protection, cow slaughter, legislation, communal

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Published by Tumkur University