A 28-year-old Muslim man was beaten to death by a mob in western India over allegations of smuggling cows, police said Saturday, despite calls by the country's highest court for immediate steps to stop deadly mob violence across the country.
The mob intercepted two men on foot who were bringing two cows with them around midnight in a forested area in Alwar district of northwestern Rajasthan state and began punching and beating them with sticks, police officer Mohan Singh told AP. He said the men were taking the dairy animals to their village in neighboring Haryana state.
One managed to escape while the other was taken to a hospital where doctors declared him dead on arrival.
Singh said police got a tip about the attack and immediately reached the area. "However, the attackers fled as they saw us approaching, leaving behind the injured man and two cows," he said.
"The police reached the scene to find the victim, Akbar Khan, lying in the mud, severely wounded. The other man had managed to flee. Khan succumbed to his injuries on way to hospital," senior police officer Anil Beniwal told dpa.
"It is not clear if they were cow smugglers. We have identified four to five suspects behind the attack and will arrest them soon," he added.
A Muslim Meo community leader said the men - both from the community - were taking the cows home to their village in neighboring Haryana state and they were not meant for slaughter.
"There is no rule of law here. The government has to take concrete action against the perpetrators and punish them," community leader Sardar Sher Mohammad told reporters.
In a similar case last year in the same district, a Muslim man was killed and 14 others brutally beaten after being accused of bringing cows for slaughter. The men had bought the animals at a cattle fair and were taking them home in Haryana state.
Cows are considered sacred in the Hindu-majority country, and slaughtering cows or eating beef is illegal or restricted across much of the country.
India has seen a series of mob attacks on minority groups since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party swept national elections in 2014. Most of the attacks by so-called cow vigilantes from Hindu groups have targeted Muslims, who make up 4 percent of India's 1.3 billion people. Low-caste Dalits were also targeted in mob attacks.
India's Hindu majority, making up some 80 percent of the population, regards the cow as holy and its slaughter is banned in most of the country's 29 states including Rajasthan.
The victims have been accused of either smuggling cows for slaughter or carrying beef. Last month, two Muslims were lynched in eastern Jharkhand state on charges of cattle theft. Such mob attacks have left at least 20 people dead by cow vigilante groups, mostly believed to be tied to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party.
India's highest court on Tuesday asked the federal government to consider enacting a law to deal with an increase in lynching and mob violence, fueled mostly by rumors that the victims either belonged to members of child kidnapping gangs or were beef eaters and cow slaughterers. The Supreme Court said that "horrendous acts of mobocracy" cannot be allowed to become a new norm and gave a slew of measures to the central and state governments for stem the violence.
In a post on Twitter, Rajasthan's chief minister condemned the incident and promised stern action.
"The strictest possible action shall be taken against the perpetrators," said Vasundhara Raje, a member of Modi's BJP.
According to data analytics site India Spend, almost 80 cases of cow-related violence have been reported between 2012 and 2017. Ninety-seven per cent of these occurred after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.
Modi has condemned the attacks and promised tough action against perpetrators, but opposition leaders accuse the government of indirectly supporting Hindu radicals.