India has long-regarded the cow as sacred due to its Hindu majority, but now the leader of an Indian state has declared that the slaughtering of cows and transport of beef will soon be punishable by life in jail, marking the harshest sentence yet for crimes against the respected animal.
The chief minister of Gujarat, Vijay Rupani,said the government would introduce the bill next week, bolstering laws against butchering cows and related crimes. Currently the maximum sentence is seven years in jail with a fine of Rs50,000 ($762).
“We want to make this law more strict,” said Rupani, a member of the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party whose elected officials – including the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi – have long championed a national ban on beef consumption.
“In the bill, we will make a provision wherein people found involved in cow-slaughtering as well as transportation of beef will be punished with life imprisonment,” Rupani told a gathering at a Hindu social organisation. “Their vehicles too will be seized permanently.”
Other BJP-led states are also extending bans and increasing punishments against cow slaughter since 2014 when Modi became prime minister, who was elected on a manifesto that included vowing to outlaw such actions.
Most Hindus honour the cow as the embodiment of the principle of non-violence and see the animal as a selfless and nurturing mother. Although some southern Indian Hindus regularly eat beef, along with Muslims and members of low-caste societies who see the cow as a cheap source of protein.
Sectarian violence has broken out throughout modern India with a resurgence in recent years linked to Hindu nationalism. A Muslim villager from the outskirts of Delhi was lynched in September 2015 after he was accused of storing beef in his freezer.
Groups of self-appointed “cow protectors” have been established in northern India and have been linked to sectarian violence and vigilantism. Modi rebuked these gangs last year after videos emerged of their members flogging young Dalits.