More than 100 Indian military veterans have condemned the targeting of Muslims and low-caste Dalits over suspicions of beef consumption and cattle slaughter in an open letter to Narendra Modi, India's prime minister.
The letter sent to Modi and state chief ministers over the weekend and released on Monday spoke of a climate of fear and intimidation perpetuated by Hindu cow-protection vigilante groups in the country.
"What is happening in our country today strikes at all that the armed forces, and indeed what our constitution, stands for," the letter signed by 114 veterans and sent by email said.
"We are witness to unprecedented attacks on society at large by the relentless vigilantism of self-appointed protectors of Hinduism."
The veterans condemned the targeting of Muslims and Dalits as well as what they called the clampdowns on free speech through a campaign of "anti-national" branding.
"We can no longer look away. We would be doing a disservice to our country if we do not stand up and speak for the liberal and secular values that our constitution espouses," the letter added, demanding action against such groups.
India's Hindu majority regard the cow as holy, and their slaughter is banned in several Indian states.
Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, there have been increasing incidents of mob violence and lynchings targeting Muslims and Dalits, for whom beef and buffalo meat are a staple food.
In May 2017, two Muslim men suspected of stealing cows died of injuries sustained after being assaulted by villagers in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, according to local police.
In June, about 20 men attacked four Muslims on a train in the outskirts of New Delhi, fatally stabbing a teenager and seriously injuring two others.
The Indian government had placed a nationwide ban on the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets in May, which was later suspended by the Supreme Court.
Critics accuse far-right Hindu groups, some linked to the BJP, of fomenting or not doing enough to stop violence against Muslims and lower-caste Hindus who eat beef or work in the meat and leather industries.
Modi denies the accusation and has publicly criticised so-called cow vigilantes.
In another development on Monday, the Indian parliament witnessed a debate on the violence, with Mallikarjun Kharge, an opposition leader, accusing the Modi government of indirectly supporting the Hindu far right.
"Violence in the name of protecting cows is not stopping," he said. "The entire country is living in fear and there is an atmosphere of terror.
"It is shameful that the government is incapable of taking any action."
According to data analytic website India Spend, 97 percent of attacks related to cow vigilantism since 2010 were reported after the BJP came to power in 2014.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies