Cover of Mother Cow, Mother India by Yamini Narayanan
Mother Cow, Mother India
A Multispecies Politics of Dairy in India
Yamini Narayanan


February 2023
424 pages.
from $35.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503634367
Paperback ISBN: 9781503634374
Ebook ISBN: 9781503634381

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Excerpts and More

Winner of the 2024 Mid-Career Book Prize, sponsored by the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA).

India imposes stringent criminal penalties, including life imprisonment in some states, for cow slaughter, based on a Hindu ethic of revering the cow as sacred. And yet India is among the world's leading producers of beef, leather, and milk, industries sustained by the mass slaughter of bovines. What is behind this seeming contradiction? What do bovines, deemed holy in Hinduism, experience in the Indian milk and beef industries? Yamini Narayanan asks and answers these questions, introducing cows and buffaloes as key subjects in India's cow protectionism, rather than their treatment hitherto as mere objects of political analysis.

Emphasizing human–animal hierarchical relations, Narayanan argues that the Hindu framing of the cow as "mother" is one of human domination, wherein bovine motherhood is simultaneously capitalized for dairy production and weaponized by right-wing Hindu nationalists to violently oppress Muslims and Dalits. Using ethnographic and empirical data gathered across India, this book reveals the harms caused to buffaloes, cows, bulls, and calves in dairying, and the exploitation required of the diverse, racialized labor throughout India's dairy production continuum to obscure such violence. Ultimately, Narayanan traces how the unraveling of human domination and exploitation of farmed animals is integral to progressive multispecies democratic politics, speculating on the real possibility of a post-dairy society, based on vegan agricultural policies for livelihoods and food security.

About the author

Yamini Narayanan is Senior Lecturer in International and Community Development at Deakin University.

"A thoroughly researched and highly innovative scholarship at the frontier of new political developments and Anthropocenic challenges. This book will push you to think about those dimensions usually clouded by refracting syllables. The Brahminical nationalist assumptions of dairy as strength and hominid centrism of the globe have received a thorough challenge by Narayanan. Much awaited credit is honored to fellow nonhuman animals who have participated in nation-building by sweat, blood, milk, skin, flesh, and soul for the believers. A successful project that manages to deliver the message with aplomb and sincerity. Narayanan has delivered a timely call to action."

—Suraj Yengde, author of Caste Matters

"Yamini Narayanan' Mother Cow, Mother India addresses the unsettling questions we have needed, but failed, to ask about connections among race, gender, religion, caste, and species, never losing sight of all the individuals involved. Her devastating critique of the Indian invocation of cow as "mother" exposes how, in the interests of nationalism and capitalism, the idea of mother, like the cow herself, is being continually exploited. Every gift a scholar needs to bring to such demanding and incisive work—compassion, courage, persistence, exhaustive research, and political acumen—Narayanan brings to this amazing and compelling book."

—Carol J. Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat

"Mother Cow, Mother India is a highly sophisticated and empathetically engaged analysis of the cows, buffaloes, and their calves at the heart of India's cow protection politics. Narayanan skillfully elicits in the reader a deep sensitivity to the animals' whose lives, experiences, and deaths are caught up in the dairy and beef industries within a fraught landscape of human politics and violence. This work is nothing short of groundbreaking. It is truly the first of its kind – a great gift to the worlds of both animal studies and South Asia studies, not to mention the global animal advocacy movement."

—Kathryn Gillespie, author of The Cow with Ear Tag #1389

"Yamini Narayanan's exposé of the cruelty entrenched within the industrialised capitalist Indian dairy animal-agriculture system and how it is advanced and supported by Hindutva bovine politics is commendable."

—Sagari R. Ramdas, The Wire

"These analyses underscore the centrality of caste and communal politics to meat-eating practices in India, even while seeking to argue that there are other historical, political and socioeconomic factors involved."

—Kaashif Hajee, The Caravan

"Mother Cow, Mother India is a clarion call to rethink the politics of cow protectionism, urging its readers to recognise animals as integral political subjects. Narayanan's groundbreaking research and her reframing of the discourse create an opportunity for genuine anti-caste animal politics – a politics that transcends species boundaries and paves the way for a more just and inclusive society."

—Pallavi Krishnappa,

"Yamini Narayanan's Mother Cow, Mother India is a stellar example of how animal geographies and ethnographies can illuminate multispecies politics of place. In her detailed analysis, Narayanan shows how space and spatiality are crucial to understanding the lives of animals and that an analysis that takes animals such as cows seriously as subjects can greatly deepen spatial and political understandings of cities, cultures, and economies."

—Claudia Towne Hirtenfelder, The AAG Review of Books

"[Mother Cow, Mother India] presents a strong argument for a post-dairy society as a means of resisting Hindutva politics and engaging in a 'politics of listening.' The book serves as a daring and radical ethnography, exposing hidden violence in food production today, although a transformative vision for a new world is not fully presented."

—Hema Vaishnavi Ale, Contemporary South Asia

"[Mother Cow, Mother India]... show[s] in complex and sometimes heart-rending terms how political geographers might understand animals as actors central to nation-state politics."

—Stephanie Rutherford, Political Geography

"[W]ith sharp arguments on the politics of dairy in India, Mother Cow, Mother India is guaranteed to lead us to view cows as key political subjects. Narayanan's ability to weave in narrative, fact and lived experience across time and space makes this book highly engaging. Readers will find it difficult to see the cow as merely sacred anymore."

—Ambika Aiyadurai, Mint Lounge

"While much has been written about the sacrality of the cow in Hinduism, Mother Cow, Mother India is one of the first to question what this special position meant to the welfare of bovines in India. In an unremittingly bleak portrayal of their torturous and often brief lives, Yamini Narayanan demonstrates that the religious reverence of the cow did not preclude their exploitation as a source of nutrition for humans."

—Faizah B. Zakaria, H-Environment

"This groundbreaking research compels us to foreground animals as integral political subjects and by interrogating the sacramentality, unmasks the vicious acts embedded in cow nationalism. The large-scale ethnographic descriptions combined with appropriate photographs make the book more interesting and captivating.... [Mother Cow, Mother India] is a substantial contribution that will undoubtedly stimulate the future of animal studies, particularly in the Indian context."

—Muhammed EK, Political and Legal Anthropology Review