Laura Murray

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

New York U.

Grant number

Gr. 9615

Approve Date

April 13, 2018

Project Title

Murray, Laura C., New York U., New York, NY - To aid research on 'Sacred Cows: Science, Politics, and Ecology in North India,' supervised by Dr. Bruce Grant

Preliminary abstract: Since the 2014 election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister and the rise of Hindu nationalism, militant forms of cow protection–a mode of political assertion rooted in the nineteenth century–have resurfaced in north India. Often, right-wing activists have targeted caste and religious minorities accused of transporting cattle for slaughter. The stated goal has been to protect the cow as ‘gau mata,’ or cow mother. Surprisingly little public discourse has attended, by contrast, to how these episodes affect small-scale farmers reliant on cattle. Building on this lacuna, my project examines ongoing transformations in cattle-based livelihoods in north India. My project reframes dominant narratives of the political and symbolic relevance of the cow through the optic of breed. For the Government of India, its path to dairy expansion has come in the form of crossbreeding low-yielding ‘indigenous,’ cows with ‘European’ varietals, a colonial-era development strategy attached to modernizing goals. In recent years, pushback has emerged from scientists and Hindu nationalists alike to protect indigenous breeds, as resource and goddess. Such changes in longstanding claims to the iconic status of the cow as a symbol of Indian social mores lead me to ask: Can cows, after all, be Indian? If so, what does this mean for the fates of the men and women across keenly marked caste and religious categories who tend them? Focusing on one rural community in north India, alongside conversations with animal scientists in livestock development institutes, this project asks: How do emerging typological vocabularies of breed, pedigree, and lineage–as organizing principles of belonging–interface with broader boundary-making practices of place, citizenship, and nation? How are such borders experienced and resisted?