Indian police arrested eight people and were searching for two more yesterday after villagers allegedly beat a Muslim farmer to death and severely injured his son over rumours that the family was eating beef – a taboo among the country’s majority Hindu population.
The mob of about 60 Hindus became incensed when a temple announced that the family had been slaughtering cows and storing the beef in their house in Bisara, a village about 25 miles southeast of the Indian capital of New Delhi, said district magistrate Nagendra Pratap Singh.
He said the mob dragged 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq and his son from their home on Monday night and beat them with sticks and bricks. Akhlaq was declared dead at a nearby hospital, while his son was being treated for serious injuries.
Since prime minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, took office last year, hard-line Hindus have been demanding that India ban beef sales – a key industry for India’s poor, minority Muslim community. In many Indian states, the slaughtering of cows and selling of beef are either restricted or banned.
For Hindus, cows are worshipped as sacred, and many of the animals are often seen wandering unchecked around cities and on roads during rush hour.
Opposition MP Shashi Tharoor said in a Twitter message that the “horrific killing shows this meat bigotry has gone out of control”, and that Indians should be “free to eat what they want”.
Tensions had been building in the village, where nearly 40 per cent of the 1,500 residents are Muslim, after some Hindus complained that their cows and buffaloes were going missing, Singh said. Yesterday, police were patrolling the village, where most residents were sitting quietly outside their homes.
When police arrested the suspects on Tuesday, a group of protesters attacked the officers, forcing police to open fire. One 20-year-old man was reportedly injured.
The eight suspects in custody were charged with murder and rioting, Singh said. Police are searching for two more suspects in the area.
Akhlaq’s 46-year-old brother, Jan Mohammad Saifi, said the family was baffled by the attack.
“My brother was singled out. Why were we targeted? We don’t eat beef,” he said. “They announced our family had slaughtered a cow, and that provoked people to attack our home.”
Akhlaq’s daughter, Sajida, said the family had mutton in the refrigerator, and not beef. Police said they have sent samples of meat taken from Akhlaq’s home to a laboratory to determine its origin.