Opposition party, tipped to win national elections, has vowed to protect cattle, triggering fear among beef traders.
A group of villagers have killed a Muslim man for allegedly smuggling cattle from India’s Himachal Pradesh, where cow slaughter is forbidden as many Hindus regard it to be a sacred animal.
The mob attacked the victim, known only as Noman, and four other men on Wednesday evening after seeing them transporting cattle in a truck, a senior police official said on Saturday.
Noman was beaten to death, while the others, who survived the attack, were charged with animal smuggling and cow slaughter, the official said.
“We have already started the lookout for the accused,” Soumya Sambasivan, the local police superintendent, told Reuters. “As it was a mob attack, so far we have registered the case for murder against unknown people.”
Cow slaughter is forbidden in some Indian regions, including the state of Himachal Pradesh.
The country, with an 80 percent Hindu population, is still the world’s largest exporter of beef and its fifth biggest consumer.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is seeking a nationwide ban on cow slaughter and the beef trade, which is run mostly by Muslims.
Noman was 20 years old and a resident of neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, the Indian Express reported. The online publication said villagers suspected that five cows and 10 oxen were being taken to Uttar Pradesh for slaughter.
‘He was innocent’
The family of the deceased rejected the claim that Noman was a cattle smuggler, saying he was hired on the pretext of transporting machinery in a truck.
“He was innocent and perhaps not aware of the cattle smuggling,” said Sayeed Akhtar, his father, who alleged that Hindu far right group, Bajrang Dal, could have been involved in the attack.
The incident came less than three weeks after Mohammed Akhlaq, 52, was dragged out of his house and beaten to death by a mob near New Delhi on September 28 over rumours that his family killed and ate a cow.
There is rising tensions between Hindus and religious minorities in the Uttar Pradesh state, where the incident occurred.
Beef is not illegal in Uttar Pradesh, but cow slaughter is banned.
Tougher measures to safeguard cows have been used in the past as a rallying call by politicians seeking to win Hindu votes, sometimes leading to Hindu-Muslim riots.
Opponents have accused Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of looking to create religious tension in order to polarise voters in a crucial and tight election that began in the northern state of Bihar earlier this month.
In Uttar Pradesh on Saturday, students of Lucknow University organised a “milk party” in protest against beef consumption and communal.
Muslim cleric Maulana Khalid Rasheed attended the event, in which participants drank cow milk.
“Through this ‘cow milk party’ we want to spread the message of love, especially for those who want to make an issue out of an animal and create differences amid two major religions in India,” said Rasheed.