A Muslim man beaten by a mob who accused him of transporting cows for slaughter has died in western India, police said Wednesday, in the latest incidence of violence by Hindu vigilante groups enraged over the treatment of the animal they consider sacred.
Pehlu Khan, 55, died late Tuesday of injuries sustained when he and 14 other men were brutally beaten by a 200-strong mob three days earlier in northern state of Rajasthan, police said.
Hindus, who form 80 percent of India's 1.3 billion population, consider cows to be sacred and for many eating beef is taboo. In many Indian states, the slaughtering of cows and selling of beef is either restricted or banned.
The men had bought the dairy cows at a cattle fair and were taking them home in neighboring Haryana state when the mob stopped the trucks, pulled out the men and beat them up, said the duty officer at the police control room in Behror town, where Saturday's attack took place.
Indian television channels broadcast video of the men being beaten with sticks and iron rods. One of the truck drivers, a Hindu, was let go by the mob, but was warned not to transport cattle in his truck.
Police said the group of Muslim men were booked under the Rajasthan Bovine Act, under which the slaughter of cows can result in up to 10 years in prison.
In interviews with Indian media, state home minister Gulab Chand Kataria surprisingly defended the lynch mob, describing them as 'Gau Bhakts' (Cow Protectors in Hindi) and blamed the victims.
"The problem is from both the sides. People know cow-trafficking is illegal but they still do it. Gau Bhakts try to stop those who commit such crimes," Kataria said, adding: "However taking law in their own hand is wrong. Police will act against both sides".
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), took office in 2014, hard-line Hindus have been demanding that India ban beef sales — a key industry for many within India's poor, minority Muslim community. There has also been a sharp rise in the activities of self-styled Hindu cow-protection groups that stop trucks on highways and attack anyone transporting bovine animals.
The latest incident comes amid a crackdown by several BJP-ruled states on cattle slaughter. The western state of Gujarat last month passed a law making the slaughter of cows punishable with life imprisonment.
India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, also ruled by BJP, has already shut-down several illegal slaughterhouses, driven by suspicions that the abattoirs are used for the slaughter of cows.
Rumors of beef-eating by India's Muslim minority have sparked violence in several places in northern India. Nearly two years ago, a man was beaten to death by a mob over rumors his family had eaten beef, and two others were killed for allegedly transporting cows for slaughter.