Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 March 2005
For more than a millennium, cow slaughter has been a source of bitter contention in South Asia. Hindus revere the animal; Muslims like to eat it and, until recently, the cow has been the preferred animal of sacrifice at the Islamic festival of ‘Id-ul-Adha¯. This paper looks at how, over the twentieth century, Indian governments of differing type and ideological colour—British and princely during the late colonial period and Congress nationalist after 1947—have tried to mediate this vexed question. It finds that while policies differed widely, there was a tendency for all governments in the early twentieth century to be guided by social custom and local opinion, so that in the small Muslim-ruled state of Mangrol, which had an official ban, the Muslims who killed cows occasionally for food were never prosecuted so long as they kept their activities discreet—but this ‘discretionary’ option became politically unviable once the country embraced democracy.
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