It is considered one of the most evident cultural characteristics of India: the conspicuous presence of cows, which roam the streets, protected by a sacredness that makes them not only inedible but also untouchable. Cattle from the proverbial thinness, which move alone or in small herds in search of food in the city as well as in the country of the country. But how does this religious tradition come about and above all how does it resist the secularization and impetuous development of India? Here are 8 curiosities.

Why are cows sacred in India?
For many Hindus, who make up almost 80% of the Indian population of 1.3 billion people, the cow is a sacred animal. In Hindu mythology, the animal is depicted as the accompaniment of several gods, such as Shiva, who rides his bull Nandi, or Krishna, the shepherd god. In ancient texts the cow appears as 'Kamdhenu' or divine cow, which satisfies all desires. Its horns symbolize the gods, its four legs, the ancient Hindu scriptures or the Vedas, and its breasts the four goals of life, including material wealth, desire, justice and salvation. But beware: the Hindus do not consider the cow in itself a deity and do not adore it. Rather, they see you as a sacred symbol of life that must be protected and revered.

Why the cows?
Perhaps because the cow is a particularly generous and docile creature, which gives human beings more than it receives. The cow according to the Hindus produces 5 essential elements: milk, cheese, butter (or ghee), urine and dung. The first three are foods and used in the worship of Hindu gods, while droppings can be used in religious ceremonies or burned to obtain fuel. Hindus associate animals with different deities and consider them sacred, including the monkey (Hanuman), the elephant (Ganesh), the tiger (Durga) and even the mouse (the animal that rides Ganesh). But no one is as revered as the cow. The first organized Hindu cow protection movement was launched by a Sikh sect in Punjab around 1870.

Since when are cows sacred?
With the rise of Buddhism and Jainism - two religions that also include vegetarianism - the Hindus stopped eating meat. In the first century AD C., the cows were associated with the brahmins, or those who belonged to the highest caste, considered almost supermen. Killing a cow began to be compared to killing a brahmin - a great taboo. But not everyone agrees with this version.

See also: in India, the largest holy book in the world

See also: in India, the largest holy book in the world

The sanctity of the cow is not a myth according to DN Jha, author of a ponderous study on sacred cows, The Myth of the Holy Cow . Jha cites ancient scriptures and texts to show that Hindus ate beef in ancient India. And this would go against the belief of some Hindu fundamentalists that beef-based nutrition came to India with the advent of Islam. And the American academic Wendy Doniger claims (correctly) that Hindus do not always treat cows with respect or kindness, cows are sometimes beaten and frequently starved.

Are there wars in the name of sacred cows?
Even today in Indian newspapers it can happen to read news of lynchings of citizens guilty of having mistreated, or worse still, a cow. In the past the defense of the sacredness of cows in India was the cause of real conflicts. Over 100 people died in 1893 as a result of religious uprisings arising from this pretext and in 1966, at least eight others lost their lives in clashes outside the Delhi parliament while demanding a national ban on the slaughter of cows.

What do Indian politicians think of sacred cows?

Even today, the question of sacred cows is considered an identity of some nationalist parties. The religious heritage convinced them to make increasingly stringent laws on the consumption and treatment of cows. Many livestock protection groups were born, stimulated by the right-wing parties. Thus, after the application of legislation on the prevention of cruelty to animals in 2017, the sale of cattle to slaughterhouses for use as meat or leather has become very difficult. The law has also had serious repercussions on various communities that instead lived on the consumption of beef, including the lower Hindu castes, for which meat is an important source of food and economic.

How do you reconcile the sacredness of cows with the technological development of India?
For some time it has also been difficult to find cows on the streets of big cities. In 2004 it was decided to remove the 36, 000 city cows from New Delhi, the country's capital, from the early 2000s that experienced an economic boom. The next step could be to keep the cows away from the provincial and national roads.

Can sacred cows be a problem?
The Washington Post some time ago told how the appearance of real vigilantes to protect cows has made the transport of livestock in states like Uttar Pradesh a risky, expensive and potentially deadly job. Hindu extremists have beaten and even killed people, mostly Muslims, suspected of smuggling or slaughtering cows. There are vigilante groups like "Save the Cow" that break into the homes of suspects, looking for meat. Many videos of these lynchings have become viral on social media. The clashes between Muslims and Hindu groups could become a problem for the general elections scheduled for May 2019.

This inquisition climate effectively prevents farmers from selling cows when they become too old to produce milk (the average life of a cow is 20 years, of which about half is productive). And given that keeping a cattle costs (at national level, it is estimated that the cost of supporting over 5.3 million cows is around 1.4 billion euros a year), farmers are increasingly choosing to abandon them to their own destiny. Result: stray animals roam the countryside damaging crops while feeding on food and causing accidents, squatting on poorly lit roads and highways. Not only that, cows often only have to feed themselves in landfills, where they risk suffocating because of plastic bags.

What future will sacred cows have?

To solve the problem, some nationalist parties think they are imposing a "tax on the welfare of cows" to devolve to the construction of ad hoc shelters. The idea is to finance these "sanctuaries" of cows through a series of taxes imposed on goods such as alcohol, government tolls and rural and agricultural organizations. The minister of state zootechnics of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh hypothesizes that each village and urban center is equipped with a stable, managed by local government agencies, to accommodate 1, 000 animals each. Even technology could help: it is thought that the stray cows are labeled with RFID labels, so that they can be easily recognized.