India's sacred cow
Other people's religious practices and beliefs may often appear to be wasteful. They seem to involve a large expenditure of scarce resources on ritual; they contain taboos that restrict the use of apparently useful materials. Their existence seems irrational in the face of ecological needs. One example that many cite in support of this viewpoifJt is the religious proscription on the slaughter of cattle in India. How can people permit millions of cattle to roam about eating, but uneaten, in a land so continuously threatened by food shortages and starvation? In this article, Marvin Harris challenges the view that religious value is ecologically irrational. Dealing with the Indian case, he argues that Indian cattle, far from being useless, are an essential part of India's productive base. Religious restrictions on killing cattle are ecolo~ically sensihle; they have developed and persisted to insure a contitlUous supply of these valuable animals.
News photographs that came out of India during the famine of the late 1960s showed starving people stretching out bony hands to beg for food while sacred cattle strolled behind them undisturbed. The Hindu, it seems, would rather starve to death than eat his cow or even deprive it of food. The cattle appear to browse unhindered through urban markets eating an orange here, a mango there, competing with people for meager supplies of food. By Western standards, spiritual values seem more important to Indians than life itself. Specialists in food habits around the world like Fred Simoons at the University of California at Davis consider Hinduism an irrational ideology that compels people to overlook abundant, nu\ri\inus [nods [or SGurer, less hl',II\hiul ioods. From Human Nature, February 1978.
Illdiil's sacred cow
What seems to be an absurd devotion to the mother cow pervades Indian life. Indian wall calendars portray beautiful young women with bodies of fat white cows, often with milk jetting from their teats into sacred shrines. Cow worship even carries over into politics. In 1966 a crowd' of 120,000 people, led by holy men, demonstrated in front of the Indian House of Parliament in support of the All-Party Cow Protection Campaign Committee. In Nepal, the only contemporary Hindu kingdom, cow slaughter is severely punished. As one story goes, the car driven by an official of a United States agency struck and killed a cow. In order to avoid the international iI1.cidentthat would have occurred when the official was arrested for murder, the Nepalese magistrate concluded that the cow had committed suicide. Many Indians agree with Western assessments of the Hindu reverence for their cattle, the zebu, or Bos indicus, a large-humped species prevalent in Asia and Africa. M. N. Srinivas, an Indian anthropologist 傳統的 states: "Orthodox Hindu opinion regards the killing of cattle with 厭惡 abhorrence, even though the refusal to kill the vast number of useless cattle which exists in India today is detrimental to the nation." Even the Indian Ministry of Information formerly maintained that "the large animal population is more a liability than an asset in view of our land resources." Accounts from many different sources point to the same conclusion: India, one of the world's great civilizations, is being strangled by its love for the cow. The easy explanation for India's devotion to the cow, the one most 崇拜 不可缺少 Westerners and Indians would offer, is that cow worship is an integral part of Hinduism. Religion is somehow good for the soul, even if it sometimes fails the body. Religion orders the cosmos and explains our place in the universe. Religious beliefs, many would claim, have existed for thousands of years and have a life of their own. They are not understandable in scientific terms. But all this ignores history. There is more to be said for cow worship than is immediately apparent. The earliest Vedas, the Hindu sacred texts from the...