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Indian State Is Expanding Penalty for Killing a Cow to Life in Prison

NEW DELHI — The Indian state of Gujarat is tightening the punishment for the slaughter of cows, considered sacred in Hinduism, to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The move on Friday came after a government crackdown on the largely Muslim-run buffalo slaughterhouses in the state of Uttar Pradesh and after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., won the state’s elections in a landslide. That victory led to the appointment of the hard-line Hindu cleric Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

It is legal to slaughter buffalo cows after they no longer produce milk, but Hindu activists in Uttar Pradesh said the industry masked the illicit slaughter of cows.

The slaughter of cows has long been illegal under an existing law in Gujarat, where Mr. Modi was chief minister until 2014. The stricter law raises the maximum punishment from seven years in prison.

“To Indians, the cow symbolizes all other creatures,” he wrote. “The cow is a symbol of the earth, the nourisher, the ever-giving, undemanding provider.”

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“Protection of cows is the single-most important principle towards saving the whole world from both moral and spiritual degradation,” he added.

But political opponents of the government said that the new law was intended to capitalize on Hindu nationalist fervor and that it would alienate minorities.

The slaughter of cows is banned in most Indian states, with some states having tightened punishment in recent years. There has also been a string of high-profile incidents of vigilante violence against those accused of eating beef or slaughtering cows — accusations that in many instances have proved unfounded.