The Wealth of a Nation: Debates Around the Cow in Late 19th Century British India | Department of History

The Wealth of a Nation: Debates Around the Cow in Late 19th Century British India

The historiography of late nineteenth-century colonial India has extensively dealt with the question of the cow by providing rich and detailed studies of the cow protection movement under the auspices of the Arya Samajits. It is within this field that I make my intervention. Instead of beginning my analysis from 1880s, the decade when Arya Samaj gained popularity in Northern and Western India, I begin my analysis from 1871. Since the object of the present study is to understand the politics around cow within the discourse of law, I will show how the cow was for the first time articulated as a legal category within the colonial discourse.

I demonstrate how a  discursive shift occured within the legal and political discourses on the cow between the 1870s and 1890s. This shift can be seen as a shift from the cow as 'perpetrator of destruction' to 'the wealth of the nation'. I locate this discursive shift in the formation of Arya Samaj by Dayananda Saraswati. I closely look at the text titled Gokarunanidhi published in 1881 in order to argue that this was, perhaps, the first time that the articulation of the animal- cow- was made in terms of wealth. Also, I will show how his position was influential in shaping a parallel discourse on 'cow protection' both within and outside the legal discourse. I examine the Allahabad High Court judgements in detail to see how it relates to Dayananda’s discourse on the cow. Lastly, I try to raise some fundamental questions for future research.


Assistant Professor


Vaibhav Srivastav
3rd Yr student
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