An Indian woman watches her cows in the drought-hit village of Purulia, 180 miles west of Calcutta, August 9, 2002.
Jayanta Shaw / Reuters

In the Gaddigodam market in Nagpur, an Indian city in the western state of Maharashtra, which is also home to Mumbai, Abdul Saleem sells tobacco as stray cows, dogs, and malnourished children roam the streets. Nearby, his shop, where he once sold beef, is boarded up; he had to shut down his business after a law passed in Maharashtra in May banned the slaughter of cows, including oxen and bulls.

Although India is a secular nation, about 80 percent of India’s population is Hindu. In Hinduism, cattle are considered sacred and the cow is revered as gau mata or “mother cow.” It is taboo to endanger this holy animal, let alone slaughter it. And so, each one of India’s states has created laws regulating the beef trade. Although the northeastern states have no restrictions on slaughtering cattle, Assam, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal allow the practice after obtaining a

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  • IRA TRIVEDI is a New Delhi-based journalist and author. Her latest book is India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality in the Twenty-First Century.
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