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India’s Cow Vigilantes

Since the victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP in 2014, a wave of Hindu chauvinism has swept India, bringing with it not just new cow-protection laws, but also vociferous demands for their strict enforcement. Worse, citizens are taking the law into their own hands – at the expense of Dalits and Muslims.

NEW DELHI – Indian politics continues to amaze and appall. The surge in cow vigilantism – a uniquely Indian phenomenon that has lately begun to flourish under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government – is no exception.

Many orthodox Hindus, particularly in the northern Indian states that comprise the so-called Cow Belt, worship the cow as gau mata, the “mother of all,” which provides nourishment and sustenance through its milk – not its meat. Refusing to eat beef is common in these states.

But it is not always a personal choice. Several Indian states have passed laws outlawing cow slaughter, and some have prohibited the possession and consumption of beef altogether. Cow slaughter and beef consumption are fully legal in just five of India’s 29 states, mainly in the south and northeast.