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Cows in India and the clash of tradition and modernism

On the streets of Delhi, India, a centuries-old religious tradition has run up against modernism: the sacred cow is getting underfoot. The plight of cows in India is an example of the tensions that are produced when religious traditions collide with modern society. In the Hindu religion it is believed that taking care of cows leads to a family's wellbeing and the children's good fortune. No doubt the reverence afforded cows is related to the traditional centrality of cows to Indian survival. For millennia, cows were at the heart of Indian life, providing labor, milk, dung for heat, and urine for traditional medicines. However, as big cities like Delhi spread into farmland, as modern machinery replaces cow labor, and as modern science replaces traditional health and wellness practices, the animals are increasingly unemployed, more a nuisance than a benefit to Indian society.

Because it is illegal to kill cows in India, unwanted, non-working cows become strays on the streets. So, today, Delhi features 3 large cow barns, one of which houses 6,000 animals, where throngs of devout people provide food and finances as part of their reverence for the once-essential animals. These voluntary contributions make it possible for cows to live out their lives honored and protected from accidents and non-Hindu poachers, according to correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro, who prepared a 5-minute news video on the topic for Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, a source for cutting edge reporting and analysis at the intersection of religion and culture. For more on how contemporary culture and religion influence one another, explore our feature article, "Best Resources to Research Cultural Trends." Also see our article, "The Changing Nature of Worship" for an exploration of how modern technology is changing the culture of worship itself in the U.S.

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