Recent violence in India towards minority Muslim and Dalit communities in response to their alleged killing of cows is shocking in its brutality. Those responsible maintain the cow is sacred to Hindus and a threat to its life is an attack on Hinduism itself. They claim a deep sense of hurt at what they see to be the historic violation of their religion. In contrast, liberal commentators argue that right-wing forces have become emboldened since Hindu nationalists came to power in 2014. Yet, Hindu nationalism alone cannot explain the widespread belief that people whose livelihoods depend on cattle are beyond the democratic norms of tolerance. Rather, we must consider ‘affect’ and the role of history to understand the currency of cow protection in the cultural politics of hurt in contemporary India.