A Muslim man has been killed by a mob of vigilantes in India after being accused of smuggling cows for slaughter, according to officials.
Akbar Khan, 28, was beaten to death by the group on Friday evening in the northwest of Rajasthan state while transporting cows through a village around 160km from the state capital Jaipur, local police said.
According to police officer Mohan Singh, the mob intercepted Khan and another man on foot who were herding two cows at around midnight Friday in a forested area. He said the mob began punching and beating the men with sticks. One managed to escape while Khan was taken to a hospital, where doctors declared him dead on arrival.
Vasundhara Raje, Rajasthan’s chief minister, described the attack as “condemnable” in a tweet, adding those who carried out the attack would face the “strictest possible action”.
The incident of alleged lynching of a person transporting bovines in Alwar district is condemnable. Strictest possible action shall be taken against the perpetrators.
— Vasundhara Raje (@VasundharaBJP) July 21, 2018
Rajasthan’s police inspector general, Hemant Priyadarshi, told AFP news agency two suspects had been arrested after initially being detained for questioning.
“Both of them were caught from the crime scene … [But] We are still trying to identify all others involved in this late night crime,” Priyadarshi said.
“Before dying, the victim told us that the attackers accused him of being a cattle smuggler.”
The incident came 15 months after the killing of another Muslim man, Pehlu Khan, by a mob in Rajasthan while he was transporting cows in the area last April.
Last month, two Muslim men were lynched in eastern Jharkhand state on charges of cattle theft.
Cow slaughter is a contentious issue in India with many states, including Rajasthan, outlawing the practice. Some have also banned the sale or transport of beef products.
In Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat, the punishment for cow slaughter is life imprisonment.
The animals are considered sacred by the country’s Hindu-majority population and squads of “cow protection” vigilantes are known to roam highways, inspecting livestock trucks for any trace of the animal.
Friday’s attack came days after India’s Supreme Court requested the government enact new legislation to end an increase in mob violence and lynchings that have reportedly killed more than two dozen people accused of cattle theft, eating beef, child kidnapping and other crimes in the country this year.
“Horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be allowed to become a new norm,” a three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, said on Tuesday.
“It has to be curbed with an iron hand … No citizen can take law into his hands or become a law unto himself.”
Saurabh Bharadwaj, a member of the Aam Admi (Common Man) party in Delhi, told Al Jazeera the government must do more to prevent mob attacks from taking place.
“We expect the government to form the strictest laws possible to contain lynchings and fake news. But the fact remains that the government failed to uphold law and order which is why the top court has had to direct the government to act,” he said.
Anas Tanwir, a Supreme Court lawyer, agreed the mobs were being helped, on occasion, by the state’s “inaction” or “complicity”.
“People are being killed by bloodthirsty mobs that are at times working under a misplaced notion that they can deliver justice and at other times to quench their hatred towards India’s minorities,” he told Al Jazeera.
On Thursday, Instant messaging giant WhatsApp announced it would limit the forwarding of messages by its some 200 million users in India after authorities called for curbs to the service following the spate of lynchings.
Whatsapp, which is owned by Facebook, Inc, said it would restrict users’ capacity to forward on content to five other “chats” at once and remove an inbuilt feature allowing media messages to be passed on quickly.
The move came after India’s government threatened legal action against the platform for allowing viral messages encouraging violence to be shared among users within the country.
According to WhatsApp, users of the platform in India forward more messages, photos, and videos than in any other country in the world.
Following WhatsApp’s announcement, Nikhil Pahwa, cofounder of Indian advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation, told Al Jazeera the platform and authorities must do more in order to prevent further lynchings.
“WhatsApp still hasn’t devised a way to bring accountability to public messaging (forwarding), and I believe they need to do that by attributing forwards to the creators of those forwards,” he said.
“[But] The primary problem lies with the inability of law enforcement agencies to prevent people from taking the law into their own hands. People will do that either when they believe that law enforcement agencies won’t or can’t act, and/or when they feel that they won’t be prosecuted for lynchings. Our law enforcement agencies are failing us.”
Additional reporting by Zeenat Saberin.