Why is it different now?
Krishna created Vedic culture – it projects the reality of the spiritual world’s bhava onto the “reflection” of the material world. So it is not merely a coincidence that taking care of cows in Vedic culture is the center of economic wealth, political peace and the happiness of humans. The maintenance of wholesomeness and harmony is based on the same thing as in the spiritual world – the cow as the most sensitive, and thereforethe most unprotected being receives the care of all the rest. Therefore, in a healthy society taking care of cows provides the harmony of exchange of service: care and protection goes from the strong to the weak, and from the weak to the strong – gratitude, help, and, in the end, the purpose of life. In this way Krishna keeps the material world in the mode of goodness, infusing an “ordinary” animal, the cow, with the essence of this goodness.
However, as soon as we are under the influence of the lower gunas, taking care of cows stops.The sensitivity of cows themselves is dulled due to the fear that they are feeling. As a result, the nature of cows becomes perverted – they start reminding us stupid, blunt, cruel animals. For example, they can even kill the weak and fight for domination in the herd. We can see that, too. But it’s important to understand one thing: it’s happening to the cows because of a long absence of care and protection that they need so much. The cows “traditionally” have been taught to try to protect themselves, which perverts their nature. Cruelty in the spirit of “self-protection” dulls the delicate perception of the world and sensitivity to the pain of all the living creatures which are initially present in the cows. But that is exactly what constitutes the essence of sattva-guna. For example, it is known that if a brahmana doesn’t get proper protection from kshatriya and starts protecting himself, he loses his brahminical qualification, the qualities of compassion, patience, and so on. For instance, Drona – the guru in the art of war. Being a brahmana, and participating in the battle of Kurukshetra, he sometimes acted too cruelly towards his opponents: he could kill more people than it was necessary. Kshatriya would never do such a thing. That is why Mahabharata doesn’t glorify Drona as a hero of the battle. That is an example of the distortion of one’s nature, when it gets into a foreign atmosphere and starts acting in contradiction to its purpose. The cows are in a similar situation in Kali-yuga. They do not feel any protection from people, on the contrary – all their lives they have to be immerged in the atmosphere of fear. Therefore, they, too, lose their ability to love, feel empathy, bless, pacify.