A Muslim man has died after being attacked by a mob while transporting cows in India, police said on Wednesday, as tensions continue to rise over the slaughter of what is considered a holy animal in the Hindu-majority country.
No arrests have been made, but police said they registered a murder case over the death of 55-year-old Pehlu Khan, whose truck carrying cattle was attacked by hundreds of vigilantes on Sunday while travelling in Alwar in the western state of Rajasthan.
At least six more people were wounded in the attack.
The men had bought the dairy cows at a cattle fair and were taking them home to neighbouring Haryana state when the mob stopped the trucks.
Video of the incident has been widely circulated online. It shows the men being beaten with sticks and iron rods. Police said they are still trying to identify those involved.
Hindus, who form 80 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population, consider cows to be sacred. In many Indian states, the slaughtering of cows and selling of beef is either restricted or banned.
‘Both sides’ to blame
Police also said they were preparing a case against the survivors of the attack, whom they suspect of trying to smuggle the cattle across state borders.
“They were carrying eight bovines in the mini truck without permission. We will file a case against the survivors after concluding our investigations,” police officer Ranesh Chand Sinsinwar, who is heading the investigation, told AFP news agency.
Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria told reporters that both sides were to blame for the incident.
“It is illegal to transport cows, but people ignore it and cow protectors are trying to stop such people from trafficking them,” he said.
At least 10 Muslim men have been killed in similar incidents across the country by Hindu mobs on suspicion of eating beef or smuggling cows in the past two years.
In 2015, a Muslim man was lynched by his neighbours near New Delhi over rumours he had slaughtered a cow. Police later said the meat was mutton.
Last month a hotel manager was beaten by a mob and his restaurant sealed in Jaipur after Hindu vigilantes accused him of serving beef.
Critics say the vigilantes have been emboldened by the election in 2014 of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Last year Modi criticised the “cow protection” vigilantes and urged a crackdown against groups using religion as a cover for committing crimes.
But last month, Modi appointed Yogi Adityanath, a popular leader known for his fiery Hindu rhetoric, to head the country’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh, which is also home to much of the country’s Muslim-dominated meat industry.
Shortly after being sworn in, Adityanath launched a crackdown on abattoirs, grinding much of the industry to a halt.
Last month, the state of Gujarat also increased the punishment for cow slaughter from seven years to life imprisonment.
Under the stiffened penalties, anyone caught transporting cows for slaughter could also face up to 10 years in jail. The amendment still needs the approval of the state governor before becoming law.