Protéger et abattre les bovins au pays de la « vache sacrée » : usages symboliques, politiques et économiques des vaches et des buffles dans l’Inde contemporaine


fr Anthropozoologica 53 (18) - Pages 207-222

Published on 28 December 2018

Protecting and slaughtering bovines in the country of the ‘holy cow’: the symbolic and economic uses of cattle and buffaloes in contemporary India

In India, the status of bovines is determined by the material relationships in which humans engage with them, as well as by the political endeavours to control their slaughter. Cattle and buffalo keeping practices are being specialized towards milk production. At the same time, Hindu nationalist movements try to ban the killing of cows. For long, cattle (Bos taurus ssp. and Bos indicus ssp.) has been esteemed and often sacralised in India while buffalo (Bubalus bubalis sp.) has been seen as an unauspicious animal fit for sacrifice. Nevertheless, these two species have provided milk and work­ing force to the agrarian economy, and well as a cheap meat to the marginalised groups in charge of flaying or slaughtering these animals. Thus, beef consumption (whatever its origin) is a marker of an inferior social and moral status. Over the last few decades, the ban on cattle slaughter has gone stricter, epitomizing a nationalist will to define India as a purely Hindu country. In this context, the milk sector has opted for buffalo keeping: these animals can be killed more easily and their carcasses are favored in the global meat market. Thus, India has recently become the first exporter of bovine meat worldwide. The multiple and highly contentious statuses of bovines in India are not entirely underpinned by cultural factors. Notably, the political and economic spheres, as well as the affective entanglements with cattle, participate in the negotiation and conflicts over the different significations endowed to the animals and to their meats.

Keywords :

Beef, bovines, cattle, buffalo, India, animal husbandry, slaughtering, butchering, Hinduism.

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