The city of Kanpur lies on the Ganges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Within this city is a leather industry, once thriving, that is under siege. Families who have worked for generations in the city's many tanneries find themselves under threat from the Hindu nationalist movement in part spurred on by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his hyper-nationalist rhetoric. Uttar Pradesh is one of 24 Indian states with regulations on the slaughter and sale of cows. In UP, it is completely illegal to slaughter a cow, sell a cow with the intent to slaughter, or consume beef. The offense is punishable with up to 7 years in prison.
Within this codification of a religious belief in to law, hierarchies of life begin to emerge--some ancient, and some brand new. Dalits are the untouchables, seen layers below the Brahmin population. Muslims begin to suffer at the hands of the Hindu population--seen as possible violators of a religious code that their own religion doesn't follow. Tannery workers and hide transporters are viewed with suspicion by the Gau Rakshas, a right-wing nationalist organization. Cows are ranked as well--the sacred cows of Indian blood are taken to shelters and cared for, while Jersey cows--not sacred because the blood running through their veins is not of Indian descent--are left to eat garbage in the street. And the water buffalo? Not sacred at all. They are the backs upon which Kanpur's thriving leather industry has been built.