Cattle on farm.

India’s Sacred Cows and Unholy Politics

The revival of the cow as an instrument of political warfare is one of the current government’s signal illiberal achievements. A recent spate of violence and threats against those accused of killing or eating cattle reveals that Hindu chauvinism is now running amok under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist administration.

NEW DELHI – The headlines out of India in recent weeks have often made sickening reading. Startlingly, the central protagonist in most of these stories is that most peaceable and innocent of animals, the cow.

A Muslim man was beaten to death by a mob in a small town an hour from New Delhi in response to rumors that he had slaughtered and eaten a cow, sacred to Hindus. Another man died after being attacked by villagers who believed he was involved in cattle smuggling. And a trucker was killed in Udhampur, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, over rumors that he had been involved in cow killings. Three deaths in just three weeks.

Public officials, too, are getting in on the action. After the chief minister of Karnataka, a member of the opposition Congress party, recently declared that he would eat beef, a politician from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) threatened to behead him if he follows through.

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