Prime Minister Narendra Modi

When doctrines make news: Why do Hindus believe cows are sacred?

When doctrines make news: Why do Hindus believe cows are sacred?

THE QUESTION: What’s the background on Hinduism’s belief in “sacred cows”? (This question was actually posed by The Religion Guy himself -- not a reader -- because the topic is currently in the news.)

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Press reports from India say the government in Uttar Pradesh state is waging a campaign against Muslim slaughterhouses accused of processing cows, which is illegal, instead of buffaloes, which is allowed and constitutes a large industry. Muslim butchers deny the accusations. In Gujarat state, meanwhile, the maximum punishment for killing a cow has been increased from seven years to life in prison.

India is offically non-sectarian but has a lopsided Hindu majority, and the current national government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is Hindu nationalist in character. Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat till 2014. The BJP recently won a lrge victory in Uttar Pradesh elections and installed strong-willed Hindu sage Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister. In BJP-ruled Rajasthan state, the cabinet includes a minister for cows.

There’ve been some riots and even a vigilante killing over cow issues during recent years. In times past, regimes even executed cow-killers. Since the 19th Century the nation has seen the rise of militant societies and vigilantes devoted to cow protection. Due to this religious heritage, many cattle roam city streets and the countryside unhindered. For some, reverence extends to bulls and oxen.

Though heavily Hindu, India has the world’s third-largest Muslim population after Indonesia and Pakistan. As with states’ “anti-conversion” laws aimed especially at hindering Christians, crackdowns on Muslims over cows reflect popular feeling among Hindus. Religion News Service reports there’s also sporadic persecution against atheists.

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Indian PM's mild reaction to violence over eating cows gets few bites in U.S. media

Indian PM's mild reaction to violence over eating cows gets few bites in U.S. media

Scripture, as most GetReligion readers surely know, can be read in a myriad of contradictory ways. That includes interpretations that justify racism, slavery and  punishing or even eradicating those who believe or act differently.

Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and others are guilty of this. As are Hindus, despite their penchant for theological pluralism.

Now we have a politically influential Indian Hindu journal writing that the Vedas, Hinduism's oldest scriptural texts, say it is permissible to kill "sinners" who slaughter cows, which are revered in Hindu culture.

I doubt Mahatma Gandhi would have agreed with this. But then again, he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist who conceived the world through a darker  and narrower lens

If you're wondering about the news hook for this post is, it may be because other than The New York Times, American news media have paid little ongoing attention to this growing story (or so my relatively quick Web search found).

But look no further than the late-September killing of a Muslim Indian who was set upon by a Hindu mob acting on rumors that he had slaughtered a cow for food, an allegation that has not held up, according to later reports. He was one of three people to die in the last month in violent incidents related to consuming beef.

Here's a Times story summing up the basic situation. And here's a BBC report that explains India's laws concerning the slaughtering and eating of cows.

Note the Times story's critical political angle.

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Memories of Mother Teresa and a religious-freedom story worth watching in India

Memories of Mother Teresa and a religious-freedom story worth watching in India

One of the highlights of my journalism career came in 1982 in Bombay (now Mumbai) where I had the opportunity to conduct a news conference for Mother Teresa, the late Nobel Peace Prize-winning nun and current candidate for Roman Catholic sainthood. The occasion was a conference staged by the International Transpersonal Association. My wife, Ruth, and I handled the press and Mother Teresa was one of the star presenters, hence the news conference opportunity.

Her talk and media comments were boilerplate Mother Teresa. Love the unloved, love the unwanted, love the dying; love, love, love until you think you have no more love to give -- then force yourself to love even more, for that is the way of God.

The diminutive, stoop-shouldered nun repeated some variation of that formula endlessly, in her talk and in response to every question asked at her news conference, and I, for one, was impressed. So it came of something of a shock to me years later when she famously admitted -- despite her popular image of saintly devotion to the poorest of the poor and the global public's assumption that her faith gave her the strength to persevere -- that she suffered for years from a spiritual dryness that distanced her from feeling connected to her God.

I'm sure that long ago news conference was just another day on the job for Mother Teresa. For me, though, it was a day to remember.

Mother Teresa, however, was a controversial personality, despite all the charitable work done by her and the order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity.

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