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Holy cow! Maharashtra #beefban sparks social media storm

Photographer | Collection | Getty Images

The hashtag #beefban is blowing up on Twitter after the Indian state of Maharashtra, home to the country's financial capital Mumbai, imposed a five-year jail sentence and 10,000 rupee ($162) fine for the sale or possession of the red meat.

The ban, which took effect Monday night, sparked a fierce national debate. Indians hold polarized views over the government's crackdown on the slaughter of cows, which are regarded as sacred by Hindus who make up more than 80 percent of India's 1.2 billion population.

Laws that ban or regulate the slaughter of cows exist in many Indian states, but only some have banned the sale of beef products, with others allowing the consumption of meat brought in from other states.

From outrage to support to bafflement, the decision drew a wide spectrum of reactions from social media users. By Wednesday morning, the hashtag #beefban had been used almost 40,000 times, according to social media analytics tool Topsy.