Fetid Politics and Religiosity: India’s Cow-Game

The two stark divided groups of people in India are about to lose a very old battle, together.

A cow vigilantism, a uniquely India phenomenon, has begun to flourish under the BJP government. It is known that orthodox Hindus, especially in the northern Indian states, worship the cow as ‘Gau Mata’(‘mother’) because it provides nourishment. They do not eat the meat of cows, and several Indian states have even passed laws that forbid cow slaughter, and some more states have also prohibited both the possession and consumption of beef. Just five of India’s 29, that are mainly in the south and northeast, allow cow-slaughter and consumption of beef.

Such posse has created yet another disregardful situation – violence against Muslims and Dalits. This is especially manifested in the Cow Belt, where this Indian custom is the most rooted for years. Usually, Dalits collect the carcasses of dead cows, and sell the skin and meat mostly to Muslims. The rest, they bury or cremate. It is a strange situation that are precipitated at this point. Although in this way Dalits alleviated Hindus from such an unpleasant task, there were cases that Dalits have paid with their head for doing so. Such incidents caused another problem – what can a farmer do with a cow that is not young and healthy enough to give milk? The farmer feeds the cow till its death, yes. But what would he do with the carcass then? In the modest, low-income peasant household, there are new economic and social issues that have cropped up.

India is essentially divided into two parts – one consisting of those who live secular lives, and the other consisting of Hindu-Nationalists. On the other side of the story is the fact that India is one of the largest exporters of buffalo meat in the world, the most significant export markets for beef being Middle East and South East Asia. While mostly Muslims and Dalits are involved in the meat-processing industry, others transport the animals and meat through and outside of the country. In states where a buffalo meat industry is forbidden, citizens have fewer opportunities to find a job, and the state has less tax income. India’s meat industry employs about 22 million people, of whom more than 15 million people are in Uttar Pradesh. Closing 17 of 41 meat processing and export units in Uttar Pradesh has caused 30,000 workers to lose their jobs, which would decrease exports for almost 50 percent. This would most definitely open doors for other global exporters, but that is a story for another day.

Paradoxically, India has allowed China to directly import buffalo meat from India. This was one of the top priorities for the new Indian government, since 2014. Economic benefits for both the countries were the prerogative, given that China had bought beef at higher prices from Vietnam, which imported the same from India, and India did not benefit from it.

The link between religion and politics has been one of the oldest and the most contaminated scenario that has been used by politicians for vote banks. But now, it is evident that the cow politics will increase political risk to such an extent, that it would affect investments.  Since investments are less attractive if a country is at risk, especially political, this will adversely affect India’s economy. In addition, decreased amount of exports, as well as rising unemployment in already politically and economically troubled states, would further damage the economy.

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