Photo Essay: Cow, a Holy Creature Meant for Profit

As part of project Hindutva, Shome Basu documents how badly cows are treated and monetised despite being considered the holiest among all animals.

Stray cows left to fend for themselves. Credit: Shome Basu/ The Wire

“Cow is our mother. It is the most important domestic animal. It gives us a very healthy and nutritious food called milk. It is a pet animal and many people keep her in their houses for many purposes. It is not a wild animal and found in many parts of the world. Everyone gives respect to the cow like a mother. The cow is worshipped in India as a goddess from the ancient time. People in India bring her at home as a dhan Lakshmi. The cow is considered as the holiest animal among all the animals. It is found in many varieties differentiating in the shape, size, colour, etc….”

This essay on cows is studied by school children in most parts of India.

A man kisses a cow as it holds a greater position than his own elders in the family. Credit: Shome Basu/ The Wire

Such indoctrination since childhood would compel children to have a ‘holy’ view towards this useful animal. While working on project ‘Hindutva,’ I encountered numerous gau rakshaks (cow protectors) who vehemently disagreed when I cite that a calf is often kept away from a milking cow, a practice that is inhuman. But they do not consider it as torture, instead a logic of livelihood.

Bajrang Dal activists in Dwarkadhish temple in Mathura’s Vrindavan. They say that they only attack people when they do not get their protection money or money from extortion. Credit: Shome Basu/ The Wire

Cow vigilantes, known as gau rakshaks, at their swearing in ceremony, where they vow to kill anyone who misbehaves with cows, specially Muslims. Credit: Shome Basu/ The Wire

In rural India, the cow is considered a part of the family. Cows produce milk and other important dairy products.

Gau seva and taking blessings of the animal are common Hindu traditions. Credit: Shome Basu/ The Wire

In Mathura, outside the Krishna temple, cows are seen eating garbage, including plastic bags, which often unknowingly asphyxiate the animal. Yet so called cow lovers casually walk away despite seeing the animal chewing on plastic.

Cows remain revered, called the ‘mother’. But problems arise when the animal is used as food.

There is absolutely no issue when a cow, ox or a bull is used to till the field and carry tons of weight.

There may be a fixation with the holiness of the cow, yet it remains badly treated.

A cow eating temple garbage, which includes plastic and other toxic material like lead at Dwarkadhish temple in Vrindavan. Credit: Shome Basu/ The Wire

In the 1970s, my father bought two New Zealander cows. Some swadeshi idea made him do so and I still remember big cans of milk that reached our home. My father belonged to a zamindari household. After becoming a refugee post Partition, he had settled and tried to build a mini zamindari system around him.

The cow thus became part of our lives. But my mother fought to use pasteurised milk because fresh cow milk had an unbearable smell and hair from the hide, which was unhygienic. Later, we all came to know the caretaker used injections with a 50cc syringe to insert some medicine and yield more milk so that he could sell the cows for more money.

Cows in Vrindavan. Credit: Shome Basu/ The Wire


No proper shelter for cows as it looks around for grass in the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh. Credit: Shome Basu/ The Wire


Bullock carts are a common sight in Indian villages. Credit: Shome Basu/ The Wire

In a village in Bengal, I saw a buffalo sacrifice. When asked why a buffalo was being sacrificed and not a cow, the men nearly attacked me.

Animal sacrifice is common in Hindu tradition. Credit: Shome Basu/ The Wire


Animal sacrifice. Credit: Shome Basu/ The Wire

In the end, I realised that the people who profess love for the cow and ready to kill in its name have done nothing but monetise the creature in the name of God.

In the guise of saving cows, a powerful political tool has been created. All animals have a sacred place in Hindu scriptures. From a rat (at Ganesha’s aide) to buffalo (Yama’s aide) to snakes, lions and elephants. But why is the cow holier than these?

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