A cow rights activist and four other men have been arrested in India for allegedly lynching two Muslim cattle traders, in the latest gruesome attack linked to a campaign against the slaughter of cows — an animal that many Hindus revere as near-deities.
The victims — one of whom was 15-years-old — were found hanging from a tree with their hands tied behind their backs in the eastern state of Jharkhand. The men’s relatives said the pair was taking buffaloes to a weekly cattle market when they were attacked.
Police were cautious about ascribing a motive for the attack, saying it could be a “business dispute”, but they confirmed that at least one of the men was active in a local cow protection society.
Such vigilante groups have been set up by rightwing Hindus in many areas of rural India to defend cows — and “rescue” them — when the animals are in perceived to be in danger.
“The manner of their hanging showed that the assailants were led by extreme hatred,” Anoop Birthary, the local police chief, was quoted by the The Times of India as saying.
A local politician in Jharkhand said another cattle trader in a nearby village had been attacked by a mob four months ago, but escaped.
The murders in Jharkhand — which has a law banning the slaughter of cows — is the latest in a series of violent attacks linked to rising passions around cows, and the suspected consumption of beef, which many of India’s religious minorities do eat as part of their diet without any taboos.
India was shaken last September by the mob killing of a 50-year-old Muslim man, after cow protection activists used the loudspeakers of the local temple to broadcast allegations that he had consumed beef at his home in a village 45 kms from New Delhi. But there have also been other, sometimes lethal, mob attacks across the country on Muslim truckers transporting live cattle or their carcases.
Cow slaughtering has long been a sensitive, and sometimes incendiary, issue in India, occasionally leading to communal friction. But vigilantism around cows, and their protection, has increased since the 2014 election campaign when Narendra Modi, now prime minister, bemoaned India’s growing meat exports of meat, and pledged to stop what he called a grim “pink revolution”.
Since then, several states under the rule of Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party have pushed through tougher laws against cow slaughter, transport of the animals and possession and consumption of beef.
The photo of the two men hanging from the tree — published in many Indian newspapers on Sunday — provoked horror from Indian liberals. Many Indians who supported Mr Modi for his promises to reform the country’s economy have also warned that growing cow protection activism is threatening reforms.
“What people do or do not eat is not the business of politicians or officials,” columnist Tavleen Singh, wrote in the Indian Express on Sunday. “Their business is to improve government services and create jobs. The obsession with beef has become a dangerous distraction.”
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