MANY stock images of India’s cities show cows lying by the roadside or ruminating in the middle of the street as cars and bikes swerve around them. The animals, sacred to Hindus, have a licence to roam. Earlier this month the state government of Uttar Pradesh proposed making medicines with their urine, which is rumoured to cure cancer, eliminate wrinkles and prevent ageing. Their dung is believed to absorb harmful radioactivity. The animals’ status is now so high that in recent years “cow vigilantes” have taken to attacking and sometimes killing people they suspect of trafficking in cattle intended for slaughter. Thirty-seven such attacks were reported in 2017, many more than in previous years. Just last month a mob in the eastern state of Bihar beat up a truck driver whom they suspected to be carrying beef.
It was not always so. D.N. Jha, a historian, writes in “The Myth of the Holy Cow” that beef, along with other varieties of meat, was often used in the haute cuisine of early India. But sometime during the second millennium BC,...Continue reading