‘Hug a Cow Day’: How India’s plan to rename Valentine’s Day failed


For centuries, cows were considered sacred by most of India’s Hindu population, a symbol of the Earth and the divine.

In fact, animals are so revered that officials planned to rebrand this Valentine’s Day as “Cow Hugging Day”, hoping the change would increase citizens’ “emotional wealth” and deal a blow to the local heritage of what it’s all about. viewed as a Western cultural import.

But the plan backfired and was abandoned after it spawned a flurry of internet memes, cartoons and jokes from TV hosts about the importance of consent.

Declaring February 14 “Cow Hug Day” came in a statement on Monday from the Animal Welfare Board of India, which called cows the “backbone of Indian culture and rural economy”.

The cow is “the giver of all, providing wealth to mankind” due to its “nutritious nature”, said the agency, a statutory body that advises India’s Ministry of Fisheries, Livestock and Dairy.

He said the push to hug cows was part of an effort to promote “Vedic” or sacred Hindu traditions, which he claimed had been eroded by Western influence.

“Vedic traditions are almost on the verge of extinction due to the progress of (Western) culture over time,” the statement said. “The dazzle of Western civilization has rendered our physical culture and heritage all but forgotten.”

But, a week after the announcement – ​​after days of mockery and mockery online – the idea appears to have been abandoned.

For days now, the media have mocked the government’s plan, publishing satirical cartoons showing cows running away from amorous men, while netizens have delighted in posting videos of violent encounters between beast and man.

An anchor of one of India’s leading English-language news channels, NDTV, was filmed trying to hug several cows, which appeared to rebuke his advances.

“Consent is important,” he joked during the segment.

This isn’t the first time the government has caused controversy over its cow policies – killing or eating is considered a sin by many Hindus, who make up about 80% of India’s 1.3 billion people.

The sale and slaughter of the animal is banned in much of the country and the animals are often left loose in the streets and roads looking emaciated, where drivers must be careful not to run them over.

An agency for the protection of cows, known as Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog (RKA), was established in 2019 by the Ministry of Fisheries, Livestock and Dairy Products.

Hindu devotees offer prayers to a cow during the Gopal Ashtami festival, in Amritsar, Punjab, on November 11, 2021.

Two years later, the RKA was forced to indefinitely postpone a national exam in “cow science” after the curriculum drew widespread criticism over its unscientific claims about the animal.

Among several unproven claims, the 54-page study guide claimed that large-scale slaughterhouse activity leads to large earthquakes, suggesting that the pain emitted by mass slaughter can generate enough stress to trigger a seismic reaction.

Without providing evidence, it also claimed that native (Indian) cows produce better quality milk compared to “exotic cows”.

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rise to power in 2014 in a wave of Hindu nationalism, the animal has also become increasingly politicized.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is strongly aligned with conservative Hindu traditions and critics say cow worship has been used as a tool to intimidate, harass and even kill Muslims, who they accuse in some cases of disrespecting the rights of Muslims. animals.

According to Human Rights Watch, cow watcher crimes in India have been ignored or covered up by authorities since Modi took office.

During Modi’s 2014 election campaign, he pledged to end the “pink revolution” – a phrase he used to describe the slaughter of cattle.

Other BJP lawmakers have gone a step further.

“I promised that I would break the hands and legs of those who don’t consider cows their mothers and kill them,” said Vikram Saini, a lawmaker for the state of Uttar Pradesh, at an event in March 2017.

The statements sparked protests in the country, where violence against women and minorities is a frequent headline. Critics say there is a double standard within the government and argue that the BJP is not doing enough to protect vulnerable groups.

In 2017, a series of photos by photographer and activist Sujatro Ghosh depicting Indian women wearing cow masks went viral on social media. The series of images was intended to portray a society in which cows are valued more than women.

Speaking to reporters about “Cow Hug Day” on Thursday – before it was canceled – BJP lawmaker Giriraj Singh said “a very good decision has been taken” by the government.

“Cows are supposed to be hugged,” he said. “We must love and embrace the cow.”

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