MUMBAI: India's western state of Maharashtra has introduced a ban on beef so strict that even possession could land you in jail for five years, media reports and the chief minister said Tuesday.
The country's Hindu majority considers cows sacred, and several states already ban their slaughter.
But the latest measures in Maharashtra — home to India's commercial centre Mumbai — go even further, making the sale or possession of beef an offence punishable by a five-year jail term or a 10,000 rupee ($160) fine.
The Indian Express newspaper said the measures became law after President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to a legal amendment — which was passed by the state parliament two decades ago, but was never sent to a president for approval.
The measures include a ban on the slaughter of bulls and bullocks, hitherto legal with a vet's certificate, although it will still be legal to slaughter buffalo.
Maharashtra's chief minister Devendra Fadnavis tweeted his thanks to the president, saying “our dream of ban on cow slaughter becomes a reality now”.
The ban didn't go unnoticed and led to an acrimonious debate on the social media with #BeefBan top-trending on India's twitter.
“In Maharashtra, all chicken, goats and sheep are currently thinking — Why should gais (cows) have all the fun? #BeefBan,” Ramesh Srivats said on Twitter.
The decision led to many angry exchanges on social media with people on different sides of the divide citing personal freedom, religious beliefs, history, environment and even animal rights to make their point.
Many took snarky jibes at the local state government for its decision. “And in other news, safer to be born a cow than a girl in India,” Sonika Mehta said on Twitter.
However there were many who came out in open support of the government's ban.
“No problems with #BeefBan whatsoever. Totally support it,” Twitter-user Shivani Sahay posted.
Right-wing Hindu groups in India have long demanded a complete ban on the slaughter of all cattle, citing religious scriptures.
The main players in the beef industry are Muslims, the country's largest religious minority, who make up some 13 percent of India's 1.25-billion population.
Maharashtra state is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in alliance with the far-right Shiv Sena party. – AFP