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Labors of Love: On the Political Economies and Ethics of Bovine Politics in Himalayan India

By Radhika Govindrajan

Cite As:
Govindrajan, Radhika. 2021. “Labors of Love: On the Political Economies and Ethics of Bovine Politics in Himalayan India.” Cultural Anthropology 36, no. 2: 193–221.


This essay asks how conceptualizing love as work might provide a fresh perspective on love’s politics. In offering an ethnographic account of how love for Gau-Mata, the Cow-Mother of the idealized Hindu nation, fuels a right-wing Hindu nationalist politics of cow-protection in India’s central Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, I suggest that the specific arrangements of labor through which affective attachments are organized critically shape the ethics and politics of love. More specifically, I depict how different kinds of situated labor produced varied kinds of love in the conjoined social worlds of right-wing gau-rakshaks (cow-protectionists) and rural women dairy farmers in Uttarakhand. For these social actors, genuine love for the cow manifested in a willingness to labor for her. Yet their understandings of what this loving labor entailed differed starkly. This article examines three distinct kinds of work—protection, service, and care-labor—that these actors variously undertook out of love for the cow. It traces how these different labors produced a varied set of relationships, affiliations, and obligations that crucially shaped the ethics and politics of love. Ultimately, I show, attending to the varied labors of love in situated social worlds reveals how love can condition a variety of often conflicting political and ethical possibilities, working simultaneously as a force of transcendence, fascist violence, and repair.


love; fascism; gender; affect; labor; cow protection; Hindu nationalism; South Asia; Himalaya