Mother Cow, Mother India
A Multispecies Politics of Dairy in India
Yamini Narayanan


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

The Introduction introduces the cow's body as a landscape and weapon through and on which a racially pure, "upper-caste" Hindu India is constructed. The linking of beef consumption alone as implicated in cow slaughter and the devaluation of buffaloes is a political strategy to perpetrate extreme violence against Muslims and Dalits as a way of "othering" them in the aspirational Hindu state. The introduction draws attention to the lives and deaths of cows and buffaloes, and the fact that slaughter is a necessary part of all dairy production. The sacred "mother" cow is fundamentally indistinguishable from the mundane dairy cow, both involving the violation and disregard of the natural motherhood of cows, and, indeed, buffaloes. The introduction provides the motivation for the study, and an overview of its methods and pan-Indian scope, a first in the more-than-human study of cow protectionism.

1 Dairy Politics and India's Milk Nationalisms
chapter abstract

To understand the experiences of cows and buffaloes, it is necessary to trace how their lives are shaped by legal, political, and economic histories of modern, independent India itself. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the political, religious, and economic context in which cows and buffaloes are situated in India. It analyzes the twin recommendations of Article 48 of the Indian Constitution to "breed scientifically" for dairying, and simultaneously prohibit cow slaughter, as an impossible mandate. The chapter maps out India's bovine breeding policies, designed to serve a dairy sector, and demonstrates how dairying serves one of the world's most profitable beef industries. It shows how Indian dairy production, and the instrumentalization of the cow therein, is linked with several different strands of Indian nationalism – Hindutva, secular, and development nationalisms.

2 Breeding Bovine Caste
chapter abstract

This chapter unpacks what Article 48's mandate to "breed scientifically" for dairying involves for the male and female animals entrapped in dairy production. It argues that the very start of the dairy production continuum—"breeding"—is as profuse with violence as the slaughter-end, albeit, in the sexualized, gendered, and reproductive violence to both male and female animals, which is not conceptualized or recognized in legislation as violence. The different breeds (or, indeed, races or castes) of cows born specifically as a result of "scientific breeding" for dairying become enmeshed in a caste logic at the slaughter end of production, which determines which cows qualify for "protection"—that is, are rescued from slaughter and rehabilitated into gaushalas—and which do not. The native Indian cow occupies an exalted position, whereas the "exotic"/ "foreign" Jerseys and Holsteins and the buffalo occupy an unambiguously "low-caste" position as ungrievable and disposable.

3 Milking
chapter abstract

Chapter 3 foreshadows the violence in merely being a "dairy" cow or buffalo, from which even the "sacred mother" cow in India has no protection. Dairying is founded upon the disruption of the mother–biological child bond, and is profuse with trauma for mothers and their infants. Through interviews with dairy scientists, owners, farmers, and animal activists, as well as ethnographic observations in formal and informal dairy farms, the chapter describes how milk production has become even more extractive in the decades since liberalization of the economy (for example, through selective breeding, intensive confinement, and the use of oxytocin), and how these extractions are experienced by individual mothers and newborns entrapped in milk production.

4 Gaushalas: Making India "Pure" Again
chapter abstract

It is commonly believed that cows in India can be saved from slaughter by retiring them into gaushalas, widely understood to be Hindu cow shelters. Unlike other farmed animal sanctuaries, however, gaushalas also engage in dairying to produce "pure," "sacred" milk to serve the needs of ritual Hinduism. This chapter argues that the conceptualization of a gaushala as a shelter for rescued cows is modern. The "danger" from which cows need rescuing is not dairying but the Muslim male. If the sentient cow is a female Hindu nation state, then gaushalas are sanctuaries for the feminized Hindu nation. In serving as dairy farms, and attempting to take additional roles as cow shelters, the chapter shows that gaushalas cannot avoid the logic of the dairy economy that requires that unwanted animals be slaughtered. Many gaushalas are thus found starving or selling unwanted animals.

5 "Save Cow, Save India"
chapter abstract

The chapter provides an overview of how cow protectionism as defined by Hindutva cow vigilantes is interpreted as loyalty to the Indian nation itself. It is the (Hindu) Mother Cow as (Hindu) Mother India who is to be safeguarded, and the dairy cow's motherhood is further instrumentalized to construct a Hindurashtra, or a Hindu state. In this context, the chapter shows that beef consumption necessarily becomes a vital act of resistance for marginalized Dalit and Muslim groups, which is then policed in ever more systematically violent ways by a Hindu fascist state. In light of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party making a comeback in 2019, the use of the cow as one way of making Hindutva more muscular has consequences for an inclusive secular, democratic Indian state, and for the animals.

6 Trafficking
chapter abstract

This chapter demonstrates the physical structures, spaces, and social processes of India's large informal economy wherein the protected dairy cow is moved into underground markets toward the slaughter-end of dairying as a contraband beef cow. It outlines how state institutions have to be complicit in looking away from illegal cow slaughter, in order to work around a Constitutional mandate that allows breeding, but not slaughter, for dairying. It is during the illegal transportation of cows to slaughterhouses that poor Muslim and Dalit communities are violently marginalized as "cow slaughterers."

7 Slaughter
chapter abstract

This chapter provides an ethnographic overview of the three types of slaughterhouses in India—export-only; municipal; and illegal/unlicensed abattoirs. It describes why and how both municipal and illegal abattoirs play pivotal roles in unauthorized cow slaughter through implicit state support. It unveils how a politics of concealment and surveillance operate with reference to cow slaughter in India. Who or what is concealed, and who or what is surveilled? The concealment is not only of the actual slaughter, but of a critical stage of dairying itself that sustains India's ambitious milk production.

8 Envisioning Post-Dairy Futures
chapter abstract

Against a fraught context where the consumption of animals (or not) is a deeply polarized and casteized/racialized political battle, and where the very survival of farmers is at stake, the chapter considers how less exploitative and less precarious futures might be enacted. It envisages a post-dairy society, and speculates on possible pathways to the interlinked issues of food security, sustainable rural livelihoods, and the interlocked human–animal liberation in India. It also posits a post-dairy society as perhaps the foundation of the fullest extent of an anti-Hindutva politics, that is, an anti-anthropocentric anti-Hindutva resistance.