Government of Indian state to introduce a bill bolstering existing laws against butchering the revered animals
The leader of an Indian state has announced that slaughtering cows and transporting beef will soon be punishable by a life sentence, the harshest penalty yet for crimes against the revered animal in the Hindu-majority country.
The chief minister of Gujarat, Vijay Rupani, said his government would introduce a bill in the next week to bolster existing laws against butchering cows and related crimes. The current punishment is a Rs50,000 fine (£622) and up to seven years in jail.
“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.”
A number of BJP-led states have extended bans or tightened punishments against cow slaughter since Modi became prime minister in 2014. The former Gujarat chief minister was elected on a platform that included a vow to outlaw it.
Killing cows or transporting beef in states such as Haryana, Jharkand or Jammu and Kashmir is punishable by large fines and up to 10 years’ prison. Beef consumption is permitted in only eight of India’s 29 states and territories.
Most Hindus honour cows as the embodiment of the principle of non-violence and idealise the animal as a selfless, nourishing mother.
But attitudes towards beef consumption are not uniform across the country. Some southern Indian Hindus regularly eat beef, as do Muslims and members of less socially dominant castes who regard the animal as a cheap source of protein.
The Modi government has reportedly asked the country’s agriculture ministry to explore the possibility of a nationwide ban but has chosen to tread carefully in implementing its election promise.
Cow protection has been a trigger for sectarian violence throughout modern Indian history and a resurgence in recent years has been linked to an increasingly assertive Hindu nationalist movement.
A Muslim villager from the outskirts of Delhi was lynched in September 2015 after being accused of storing beef in his freezer, a murder that government ministers were accused of underplaying.
Bands of self-styled “cow protectors” have sprung up in northern India, and have been accused of fomenting sectarian violence and carrying out vigilantism.
Cow-protection gangs were rebuked by Modi last year after videos emerged of their members flogging young Dalits. The least powerful group in the caste hierarchy is traditionally enlisted to dispose of dead cows.