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Revisiting the Cow Protection Discourse: Gender, Caste and Labour at a Gaushala in a North Indian Town


· Ridhima Sharma Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (Pune, India)


07/27 | 11:40-12:00 UTC+2/CEST


The initial political and analytical impulse for this paper comes from a familiar and oft-encountered place—one of discomfort, with historical and contemporary ways of framing and interpreting the ‘cow protection movement’ or gau raksha in India. I argue that the dominant mode of analysing cow-politics in India, in its overwhelming association of the cow with Hindu nationalism both in symbolic and material terms, pays necessary but disproportionate emphasis on a certain kind of hyper-visible, spectacular violence. This informs the construction of a purported linear and teleological ‘movement’ in the name of the cow as if all heightened, finite episodes of cow-related violence, their varied textures notwithstanding, add up to produce a coherent ‘cow protection movement’. Making a departure from the commonly deployed method of analysing spectacular modes of violence such as cow-related ‘riots’ and ‘lynchings’, this paper uses an ethnographic engagement with the space of a VHP-run gaushala or cow-shelter to understand the gendered and caste- marked routinised practices of labour to explore the gaushala as a space and place, and the manner in which it shapes what has come to be unproblematically called as the ‘cow protection movement’