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India's War on Beef Is Heating Up Again

Life in prison is now the penalty for killing cows in one Indian state.
Photo via Flickr user Y’amal

In India, meat consumption cuts straight across ethnic lines.

While eating beef is strictly prohibited for the Hindu majority because of the cow's holy status in Hinduism, it is an important source of nourishment, ritual, and livelihood for Muslims.

We've seen those tensions flare in the past in different parts of India, with burgers being outlawed and fundamentalist organizations calling for the murder of anyone who slaughters a cow. But things are now reaching a boiling point in Uttar Pradesh (India's largest state), as authorities crack down on slaughterhouses and butchers, most of whom are Muslim.


According to The Telegraph, a "Taliban-like" squad has also been charged with enforcing a right-wing Hindu political agenda to monitor "immoral activities," including men "loitering" near women, supposedly as a way to cut down on sexual assaults.

READ MORE: India Is Tearing Itself Apart Over Eating Beef

At the same time, in the state of Gujarat, legislators amended the state's Animal Preservation Bill to include a maximum punishment of life imprisonment and a minimum of ten years for cow slaughter. Under this legislative framework, transporting beef also entails a minimum ten-year sentence.

According to the Indian Express, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said that he wanted to make Gujarat a "shakahari," or vegetarian, state. It's not unusual for people to be attacked or even murdered by "cow vigilantes" in some parts of India, and ethnic tension is often at the root of these attacks.

Just last weekend, a Muslim man was beaten to death by Hindu "protectors of cows" in Rajasthan. The victim, Pehlu Khan, was among five men beaten by vigilantes when a cow convoy was intercepted by vigilantes, though Khan's family claims that the cows were dairy cows and not intended for slaughter.

One thing is certain: The act of eating beef is anything but neutral in India's tumultuous cultural climate.