Cows have long enjoyed a privileged place in Indian society, revered as a sacred animal by the predominantly Hindu population -- but now they'll soon have a special place in the government, too.
Over the weekend, Vasundhara Raje, Chief Minister of the state of Rajasthan, announced the formation of a new ministry there specifically for the preservation and protection of cows. In addition to shaping animal welfare policies, the bovine-friendly department would establish a university devoted to the study of "cow science."
Hinduism considers the consumption of beef taboo and the animals themselves are a symbol for life, though many cows are still subjected to squalid and dangerous conditions both on cattle farms and free-roaming through India's dense urban centers. And while killing cows has been outlawed in several states and is tightly regulated throughout India, millions are smuggled across the border each year to be ritualistically slaughtered in neighboring Bangladesh.
India has a long tradition as a pioneer for animal causes, having been the first nation in the world to create a dedicated Animal Welfare Board in 1962. In fact, humane treatment of animals is even mandated in Article 51 of the Indian Constitution:
"It shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the Natural Environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for all living creatures."