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  • Neel Sauer

Holy Cow! What makes a cow holy?

Many of us have muttered the words “Holy Cow.” It might have been a shocking moment or being surprised about a situation. Your favorite soccer teams win against all odds over a higher ranked competitor. Another situation where we use the idiom “holy cow” or “sacred cow” is when we come across a behavior or belief which has been around for a long time and is simply accepted, not being questioned and hence difficult to challenge or change. “My grandparents always ate fish at Christmas eve, and we will never change that. It is a sacred cow!”

This article, however, is about the real deal, the actual, physical holy cow! Today, India is the country with the highest population in the world. About every 6th person on the planet is Indian! One of the consequences is that the traffic on the streets of big cities can be crazy. Motorcycles, cars, busses and tuk-tuks try to squeeze past each other to get ahead accompanied by a frantic concert of honking. And then, suddenly, the traffic slows and everyone waits patiently as a cow casually and seemingly undisturbed by her surroundings cross the street. We have just spotted the holy cow!

With an estimated 50 million cows in the country and approximately 10 million of them roaming the streets of the country, it is not a rare occurrence. India seems to be cow obsessed. There is a magazine dedicated to cows, there is a cow minister in one of the states in India and the prime minister of the country regularly mentions cows and asked for them to be well treated. The cow even has its own holiday, called Gopastami. On that day, the cows are washed and dressed in flowers. Why is that?

Among the many religions in India, Hinduism is the main religion representing about 80% of the population. Hindus, consider the cow to be a sacred symbol of life that should be protected and revered. In the Vedas, the oldest of the Hindu scriptures, the cow is associated with Aditi, the mother of all the gods. Although several animals are associated with different gods and consider sacred like the monkey (Hanuman), the elephant (Ganesh), the tiger (Durga) and even the rat (Ganesh). But none is as revered as the cow. Hindus see the cow as a particularly generous, docile creature, one that gives more to human beings than it takes from them. The cow, they say, produces five things — milk, cheese, butter (or ghee), urine and dung. The first three are eaten, while the last two can be used in agriculture or burned for fuel.

Unfortunately, the cow has, however, also become a political animal. With the Hindu majority not allowed to eat or slaughter the animal and the Muslim minority used to eating the animal as it is cheaper than fish or chicken, conflicts a pre-programmed. Increasingly militant cow support groups enforce the laws protecting the animal with violence and are known to have hurt or even killed people suspected of eating beef. Considering all things, it will come as a surprise to most of us that India ranks among the biggest exporters of beef in the world! When it comes to business there seems to be no Sacred cow.

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