Hindus consider the cow to be a sacred symbol of life that should be protected and revered. In the Vedas, the oldest of the Hindu scriptures, the cow is associated with Aditi, the mother of all the gods. Hindu imagery often pictures a pretty cow — usually white — garlanded with flowers as a sign of the faith’s special reverence.
Hindus see the cow as a particularly selfless, generous, docile creature, one that gives more to human beings than she takes from them. The cow, they say, produces 4 important things, which helps in our survival- milk, cheese, butter (or ghee) and dung. The first three are eaten and used in worship of the Hindu gods, while the last one can be used in religious devotion or in penance or burned for fuel. When was the last time your cat gave you anything besides a dead mouse?
Cow produces more milk than necessary for its own kids and is Gods arrangement for nourishment of humans. Thus cow is selfless. Also cow eats grass and straw which is of no value to humans and still converts it into milk which is very valuable nutrient and can be converted into curd, ghee, butter, oil, paneer, cheese among others and hundreds of preparations can be made out of it to support the main cereal diet.
The four legs of the cow and bull are the four pillars of religious life. As long as the cow is slaughtered the four pillars of religious life are diminished. Protecting cows is protecting the four pillars of religious life.
Hindus even have a “cow holiday” called Gopastami (this year on Nov. 19) when all cows — even the ones left to wander through busy streets and rural villages — are washed and dressed with flowers.