This article is my offering of love to that creature which is taken at night, thrown on top of hundreds of her kind, made to travel hundreds of miles, pulled out from the truck by her tail as her legs have broken and then, as she lies there helplessly, she is stabbed repeatedly and killed. Your breakfast is from her sore and bruised teats. Your shoes are made from her dead body. Our government’s boasts that it is the largest exporter of leather in the world and the second largest producer of milk. All this from this cow who is mute, walks slowly, endures pain with dignity and gentleness, does not kick, cries soundlessly when we kill her calf in front of her and when we hang her upside down and tear her flesh off while she is alive. 

What has happened to the spirit of India? When did our national character shift from wanting the beautiful, gentle and wise cow as our national symbol to the tiger? Is it because we are ashamed that we have wiped out the tiger population? But we have almost wiped out the cow population as well. An animal that gives birth once a year for four years only and whose sons are killed immediately, can she survive the leather industry, the illegal export oriented slaughterhouses and the smuggling of one crore of her kind annually to Bangladesh? No, a survey of one constituency of 25 lakh in Andhra Pradesh people found less than 1200 cows.

The cow was considered so much the epitome of excellence of character and beauty that many of our names, and those of the gods are based on her. I do not know whether any names in any other religion are based on animals but the Hindus have dozens of names based on the cow: Here are some common ones: Gauri (as beautiful as the cow) , Gaurang / Gaurangi (cow coloured), Gopi (cowherdess), Gauhar (cow coloured) Gaurava: cow voiced, another word for glory, Gautam/ Gautami (comes from Gau Uttama, the best cow/ox). It is not a coincidence that the Buddha’s name was Gautama. Nandin is the bull of Shiva and his name means both son and delightful. Gavendra or bull is another name for Vishnu. Gauri is the wife of Shiva and Mount Everest is called Gaurishankar . The famous Gorkhas of Nepal, the military force that the British and the Indian armies boast of are a short form of Gorak?h meaning protectors of cows. 

It is not a coincidence that Krishna the best loved incarnation of Vishnu is a cowherd. Gopala (one who looks after cows) Govardhana (cow increaser) are his most common names. He proclaims: "The piety that comes from bathing at holy places, the piety that comes from feeding Brahmins, the piety that comes from giving generous charity, the piety that comes from serving Lord Hari, and the piety that comes from all vows and fasts, all austerities, circumambulating the earth, and speaking truthfully, as well as all the devas, always stay in the bodies of the cows. The holy places always stay in the cows' hooves. O father, Goddess Lakshmi always stays in the cows' hearts. A person that wears tilaka of mud that touched a cow's hoof attains the result of bathing in a holy place. He is fearless at every step. A place where cows stay is holy. One who dies there is at once liberated. One who harms a cow is the lowest of men. He commits a great sin, as if he had killed a Brahmin. Of this there is no doubt. A person who harms the cows, who are the limbs of Lord Narayana, goes to hell for as long as the sun and moon shine in the sky." 

How many rivers are linked to the cow? Gomati (with the mind of a cow) river is a tributary of the Ganges River. According to Hindu mythology the river is the daughter of Sage Vashist, and bathing in the waters of the Gomati on a certain day can wash away one's sins. The Godavari (bestowing prosperity) river has pilgrimage centers on its banks.

How many states and cities are named for the cow? Offhand - Gopalpur and Gopalganj, Guwahati, Gotegaon, Gondhia, Goregaon, Gonda, Gokarna, Kovvur which comes from Govuru meaning cow town. The state of Goa is a short form of Gomantak (rich in herds). Gorakhpur are named after a renowned ascetic saint, Gorakshanath meaning ‘cow protector’. Godhra in Gujarat means the land of the cow. Even the gotra or family name is derived from the word ‘go’. Gotra means cowpen, within which the family lived with its cattle. 

The cow is in the Vedas as a symbol of wealth and light. Aditi, the supreme force of Nature, is described as a cow, and the supreme soul as a bull. Vyasa said: “Cows are sacred. They are embodiments of merit. Other scriptures identify the cow as the "mother" of all civilization.

Mahatma Gandhi said: "I worship the cow and I shall defend its worship against the whole world," and that, "The central fact of Hinduism is cow protection." He called her "the mother to millions of Indians”.

Other mythologies have fairies and genii to grant wishes. We have Surabhi meaning sweet smelling, agreeable, shining, pleasing, good, beautiful, beloved, wise and virtuous. She is the fabulous cow of the gods, the daughter of Daksha, wife of Kashyapa and mother of Kamadhenu, the wish fulfilling cow. She is formed from a syllable of Brahma and her daughters Surupa (beautiful), Hansika (graceful), Subhadra (auspicious) and Sarvakamadugha (fulfiller of desires) are protectors of the Earth. 

By her docile, tolerant nature, the cow exemplifies the basic virtue of Hinduism, noninjury, known as ahimsa. In the Vedas, cows represent wealth and joyous life. From the Rig Veda (4.28.1;6) we read. 'The cows have come and have brought us good fortune. Rejoice our homestead with pleasant lowing. In our assemblies we laud your vigor."

In their Dharmasutras, Vasishta, Gautama and Apastambha prohibit eating the flesh of both cows and draught oxen, while Baudhya-yana exacts penances for killing a cow, or ox. Again and again the Vedas emphasize:

Atharva Veda III.30.1 You should impart love to each other as the non-killable cow does for its calf.
RgVeda VIII.101.15 Cow is pure, do not kill it.
Yajur Veda XIII.49 Do not kill the cow.
RgVeda VI.28.3 Enemy may not use any "astra" i.e. weapon on cows
RgVeda VI.28.4 Nobody should take them to butcher house to kill them
Mahabharata- Shantiparva 262.47 Cow is called 'aghnya' non-killable

The Indian rebellion of 1857, the forerunner of the Independence movement started with popular anger that bullets were being greased by the British with cow fat. Thousands of Indians died rather than tolerate this. The term sacred cow has passed into the English language to mean an object or practice which is considered immune from criticism and to be treated with respect. 

The term now has no meaning: cow slaughter is banned except in two states: West Bengal and Kerala. But they have no cows of their own. Thousands of cows are sent there from other states to be killed. Mumbai slaughterhouse Deonar kills them illegally in the lakhs. So does Idgah in Delhi. There are 30,000 illegal slaughterhouses stretched across India, which kill them with impunity, paying the Hindu police money to do so. Our government trains carry them openly to Bangladesh slaughterhouses.

What kind of Hinduism is this that violates its most profound tenet? It is not going to mandirs that makes one a Hindu. It is how you live your life within its dharma. When the last cow has gone, the last Hindu will have gone too.
Maneka Gandhi

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