Why Don’T Indians Eat Beef?

All of India’s most widely practiced religions have dietary laws and traditions. For example, Hindu texts often praise vegetarianism, and Hindus may also avoid eating beef because cows are traditionally viewed as sacred. Muslim teachings, meanwhile, prohibit pork.

Cows in ancient Indian history

For centuries, researchers have known that the ancient Indians consumed beef. After the fourth century B. C. many Hindus continued to eat beef even after the practice of vegetarianism among Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus spread throughout India.

Ancient ritual texts known as Brahmanas (c. 900 B.C.) and other texts that taught religious duty (dharma), from the third century B.C., say that a bull or cow should be killed to be eaten when a guest arrives.

According to these texts, “the cow is food.” Even when one passage in the “Shatapatha Brahmana” ( forbids the eating of either cow or bull, a revered ancient Hindu sage named Yajnavalkya immediately contradicts it, saying that, nevertheless, he eats the meat of both cow and bull, “as long as it’s tender.”

It was the Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata (composed between 300 B.C. and A.D. 300) that explained the transition to the non eating of cows in a famous myth:

According to this myth, people switched from hunting wild cattle to domesticating them, breeding them for milk, and eventually moving to agriculture and pastoral life. The cow is portrayed as the model animal for producing food without being killed.

Some dharma texts composed in this same period insist that cows should not be eaten. Some Hindus who did eat meat made a special exception and did not eat the meat of cow. Such people may have regarded beef-eating in the light of what the historian Romila Thapar describes as a “matter of status” – the higher the caste, the greater the food restrictions. Various religious sanctions were used to impose prohibition on beef eating, but, as Thapar demonstrates, “only among the upper castes.”

In my opinion, the objections to eating cows combine a symbolic argument about female docility and purity (represented by the cow who generously gives her milk to her calf), a religious argument about the sanctity of Brahmins (as Brahmins came to be increasingly associated with cows and to be compensated by donations of cows), and a strategy for castes to advance in social standing.

Sociologist M. N. Srinivas pointed out that the lower castes gave up beef when they wanted to move up the social ladder through the process known as “Sanskritization.”

By the 19th century, the cow-protection movement had arisen. One of the implicit objects of this movement was the oppression of Muslims.

Gandhi was infamous for trying to make vegetarianism—specifically the prohibition against eating beef—a fundamental principle of Hinduism. Gandhi’s stance on cows was connected to his nonviolent philosophy.

He used the of the Earth cow (the one that King Prithu milked) as a kind of Mother Earth, to symbolize his imagined Indian nation. His insistence on cow protection was a major factor in his failure to attract large-scale Muslim support.

Yet even Gandhi never called for the banning of cow slaughter in India. He said,

From my perspective, in our day, the nationalist and fundamentalist “Hindutva” (“Hindu-ness”) movement is attempting to use this notion of the sanctity of the cow to disenfranchise Muslims. And it is not only the beef-eating Muslims (and Christians) who are the target of Hindutva’s hate brigade. Lower-caste Hindus are also being attacked. Attacks of this type are not new. This has been going on since Hindutva began in 1923. And indeed, in 2002, in a north Indian town, five lower-caste Hindus were lynched for skinning a cow.

But, as local analysis shows, the violence has greatly increased under the Modi government. IndiaSpend, a data journalism initiative, found that “Muslims were the target of 51 percent of violence centered on bovine issues over nearly eight years (2010 to 2017) and comprised 86 percent of 28 Indians killed in 63 incidents…As many of 97 percent of these attacks were reported after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014.”

In 2015, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, lower-caste Hindus were flogged for skinning a dead cow, triggering spontaneous street protests and contributing to the resignation of the state’s chief minister.

These and numerous other recent attacks show how cows, who are kind and docile animals, have become a lightning rod for human cruelty in India, often in the name of religion.

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Why Don’t Hindus Eat Beef? | Hindu Dietary Practices Explained


Is it a sin to eat beef in India?

It is not wrong to eat the meat of eatable animals because Brahma created both the eaters and the eatables, according to Manusmriti (Chapter 5 / Verse 30). “The real question about beef consumption should be about how it affects the soul and whether it is sinful or not.

When did Indians stop eating beef?

For centuries, researchers have known that the ancient Indians consumed beef. After the fourth century B. C. many Hindus continued to eat beef even after the practice of vegetarianism among Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus spread throughout India.

Why do Indians drink milk but not eat beef?

The consumption of beef is taboo for religious reasons. Some Indian states have even codified this idea into their legal framework by enacting legislation that forbids the slaughter and consumption of cows (without actually prosecuting those who do so).

Why is cows sacred in India?

The cow is described in ancient Hindu texts as “Kamdhenu,” or the divine cow, which satisfies all desires. Its four legs represent the “Vedas,” or the ancient Hindu scriptures, and its udder represents the four goals of life, which include material wealth, desire, righteousness, and salvation. Its horns stand for the gods.

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