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


February 2023
392 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503634367
Paperback ISBN: 9781503634374



India imposes stringent criminal penalties, including life imprisonment in some states, for cow slaughter, based on a Hindu ethic of revering the cow as sacred. And yet India is also among the world's leading producers of beef, leather, and milk. What is behind this seeming contradiction? What do these animals, deemed holy in Hinduism, experience in the Indian milk and beef industries? Yamini Narayanan asks and answers these questions, introducing cows and buffaloes as key subjects in India's cow protectionism, rather than their treatment hitherto as mere objects of political analysis.

Emphasizing human–animal hierarchies and relations, Narayanan argues that the dominant Hindu framing of the cow as "mother" is one of human domination, wherein bovine motherhood is simultaneously capitalized for dairy production and weaponized by right-wing Hindu nationalists to violently oppress Muslim and "low" caste Hindus. Using ethnographic and empirical data gathered across India, this book reveals the harms caused to buffaloes, cows, bulls, and calves in dairying, and the exploitation required of the diverse, racialized labor throughout India's dairy production continuum to obscure such violence. Ultimately, Narayanan traces how that the unraveling of human–animal domination and exploitation is an integral component of liberal, progressive, democratic politics, speculating on the real possibility of a post-dairy society, based on vegan agricultural policies for livelihoods, food security, and multicultural, multispecies diversity.

About the author

Yamini Narayanan is Senior Lecturer in International and Community Development at Deakin University.