Last month, the Indian government raised eyebrows when it released the syllabus for a new nationwide test about cows.
That test, to be held on February 25, will be conducted online, and it will be for primary students, secondary students and post-school adults. In early January, the governmental agency Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog (RKA) uploaded a mass of information on which the test will rely. That information proved so bizarre that the RKA removed chunks of it later. The whole thing has become a reasonable-sized scandal.
The RKA was established by Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s government in 2012, and it has the stated goal to “organize animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and to take steps for preserving and improving breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.” It is essentially a pro-cow government agency.
The test itself is, according to the government, designed to raise awareness and appreciation of cows through a scientific approach. But the information released by the RKA, making up the material for the test, included a significant amount of questionable, outright false and unproven statements. Shamani Joshi at Vice noted several of those, including: an insistence that foreign Jersey cows were “lazy” compared to Indian cow breeds; that slaughtering cows can cause earthquakes due to pain waves affecting geology; that Indian cow breeds are yellowish because they contain literal gold; and that cow urine can be used to heal afflictions including respiratory disease and inflammation.
Although the exam’s material was removed and then reuploaded, the test is still scheduled, and the RKA, according to The Print, referred to the controversial section as a “technical glitch.”
This entire debate, though, is not something silly or frivolous. The cow, considered sacred by many Hindus, has become a sort of right-wing symbol for the right-wing Modi government. Despite the fact that India is a multicultural country with many, both Hindu and not, who eat beef, the Modi government has systematically made pro-cow imagery and action a part of its platform. Right-wing Hindu vigilantes have embarked on pro-cow attacks, generally against Indian Muslims, dozens of whom have died.
Millions of dollars have been funneled into cow protection agencies like the RKA and bans on cow slaughter, even for cattle past milk-producing age. Those cows have previously been a significant economic resource in India for meat and hide, and in many states, the entire practice is banned.
The pro-cow platform is thus a useful way for Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, to advance its Hindu nationalist views—at the expense of non-Hindus.