According to an ancient Hindu tradition, cows represent Mother Earth, symbol of life, fertility and motherhood. She feeds us even if we are not her offspring.
t is known as the llamna Kámadenu "the one who fulfills all your desires", sacred for her generosity and abundance. The wet nurse of all human beings.

It is said that in India cows are sacred. Therefore, from other countries and cultures there is the idea that these animals live better lives than humans and that no one can harm them.
But what are the lives of these animals really like?
Is it true that they are respected as many people believe?

When we look at the data, we find that India is one of the world's largest beef exporters and one of the world's leading milk producers. The industry uses cows and buffaloes to produce this product.

So what is really going on - is it possible to consider an animal "sacred" and at the same time exploit it for one's own profit, or is it a contradiction in terms?

Nayan Agarwal, an animal activist in India, has helped us learn first-hand about the real situation of cows in that country. He has also shared with Animals' View her personal view of this reality:


Animals used in the Indian dairy industry suffer terrible injustices, from birth to death. Cows and buffaloes endure a long life of torture so that humans can extract milk from their udders, pumping out every last drop.

What was ideally intended for the calf is taken away from them for human consumption.

Like any other mammal, cows produce milk, a food that will provide their babies with the nutrients they need. If the baby is sick, it is common to discard it and abandon it in the streets; if it dies, sometimes what is known askhalbacha, is put into practice. This consists of making a kind of doll in the shape of a calf to which a piece of skin from the dead child is added and placed next to the mother. In this way the cow thinks that her son is still close by and will remain calmer.

The Indian dairy industry is a complex and multifaceted sector that encompasses large farms outside the cities and small family dairies in smaller towns and cities.

This industry uses both cows and buffaloes for milk production. However, buffaloes are more common than cows. One of the reasons could be that buffaloes are generally considered to be more productive in terms of milk yield. In addition to this it happens that, in some cases, cows are considered sacred in Indian culture and cannot be slaughtered. However, the legal status of cow slaughter for meat varies among Indian states: some have actual prohibitions against beef, while others do not.

Once the cows are no longer productive, they will be abandoned on the streets where they have to scavenge for food from people or from the garbage. In these conditions, many of them have children who will know nothing but a life of abandonment on the streets. Some of them suffer road accidents with no government agency to help them or give them shelter. When asked, many farmers claim that they take care of the cows when they are no longer productive, but in most cases they are abandoned.

The buffaloes, on the other hand, will be sent to the slaughterhouse. It is important to note that India is the largest exporter of beef and the dairy industry contributes to this aspect. The economic factor of maximizing profits inexorably ends with the death or abandonment of these animals when they are unproductive.

The treatment and living conditions of cows and buffaloes vary according to the size of the farm. Owners of small farms tend to let the animals roam around, while larger farms with high production requirements tend to keep them tethered with small ropes or chains throughout their productive life.

We cannot forget that in the dairy industry male calves are not of much use, both cows and buffaloes. Some die of malnutrition, others are sent to the slaughterhouse or abandoned in the streets.

As for the export of Indian cows for slaughter, it is generally prohibited by law in India. However, there are cases of illegal smuggling.
There are some shelters, only for cows and not for buffaloes, called gaushalas; but their operation is under surveillance, as there are concerns about financial aspects and hidden businesses associated with these places.

Speciesism is the reason why human beings consider themselves superior to other animals. The most obvious example is in how we consider other animals in our society with a status of "property", while at the same time we benefit from them. As a result, we construct a discourse with which we justify what we do to other animals, as long as it does not cause them "unnecessary" suffering and their supposed well-being is taken into account.

There are forms of oppression and domination, wrote Michel Foucault, that become invisible: the new normal. Have we normalized oppression today? Are we even aware of it?

Language can also be reclaimed, redefined and used for liberation. Nonhuman animals suffer the devastating effects of speciesist language. When we refer to them as "it" or "something" their identity as "someone" is erased. We commodify their bodies and foster the idea that they are "resources for exploitation." When we differentiate between "animals" and "people" we maintain the idea that they should receive differential treatment in which humans are superior. This also highlights a dualistic analogy of language that further exacerbates differences.

Our laws normalize and legitimize "degrees of exploitation" for certain animals, such as those considered farm animals. We see, for example, the formulation of slaughterhouse rules in some Indian states that supposedly protect cows from slaughter but, on the other hand, continue to maintain their productive status as "high milk yielding cows." The measure stirred up several controversies at the time, but none of them focused anywhere near the situation of nonhuman animals in our society. The prism through which the cow protectionism debate has been conducted has only supported political and religious vendetta and resulted in an anthropocentric and casteist approach in which people from certain sections, such as Dalits and Muslims, have been deliberately targeted. The whole debate was not only a mockery of human rights and specifically towards these two communities, but animals were "used" to prop up the human agenda, precisely an agenda of upper caste majoritarianism.

The judicial system and legislation focused on animal welfare are pluralistic in recognizing animal rights, but they do not fail to uphold their "ownership status". This idea of ownership and ownership also reflects how speciesism is as present in the legislative framework in India as anywhere else in the world.

Therefore, although it is stated that "cows live better than people", we must reconsider whether this is really true if we take into account that the majority of the Indian population views animals such as cows from a utilitarian perspective and commodifies their bodies as happens in practically all societies where whoever is reading this text lives.

Work by Animals' View. With Xiana Castro, Eira Do Val, Nayan Agarwal and voice of Avantika Mathur.

In collaboration with Animal Save India.

Published in February 2024