Indian police said Monday they had detained two people in connection with the weekend killings of a pair of suspected cattle thieves by a mob in northeastern Assam state.
The fatal beatings of the two Muslim men in Nagaon district were the latest in a string of attacks in India allegedly carried out by so-called cow vigilantes and stemming from inter-religious tensions over the treatment of cows, considered sacred in Hindu culture. Most states in Hindu-majority India ban the slaughter of these animals and consumption of beef.
The killings in Nagaon occurred Sunday after a villager spotted two men – identified as Riyazuddin and Abu Hanefa – walking away with his cows and raised an alarm, superintendent of police Debaraj Upadhyay said.
“The other villagers who gathered at the spot chased the two men and brutally beat them. Police arrived at the scene and rushed the two men to a nearby hospital, where they succumbed to their injuries,” Upadhyay told BenarNews.
“We have picked up two people for questioning and are looking for other suspects in the case,” he said, adding these were the first killings of suspected cattle thieves by a mob in Assam.
Nagaon district resident Abdul Jabbar, who claimed to have witnessed the killings, told BenarNews: “There was a huge ruckus. I stepped out of my house and saw dozens of villagers chasing two men. They eventually got hold of them and beat them mercilessly.”
At least 10 Muslims have been killed in separate incidents of mob violence over rumors of beef consumption across India since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in May 2014, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) last week.
Indian authorities should promptly investigate and prosecute self-appointed cow protectors who have brutally attacked Muslims and Dalits over rumors that they sold, bought, or killed cows for beef, the report said.
The nearly 180 million-strong Dalit community, relegated to the bottom of Hinduism’s rigid caste hierarchy, for centuries has been at the receiving end of caste-related discrimination that frequently turns violent. Such attacks have increased since the rightwing BJP came to power, government critics say.
“Instead of taking prompt legal action against the vigilantes, many linked to extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling BJP, the police, too often, have filed complaints against the assault victims, their relatives and associates under laws banning cow slaughter,” HRW said in its report.
Muslim group demands impartial probe
Badaruddin Ajmal, president of the All India United Democratic Front, an Assam-based Muslim organization, also blamed hardline Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling party for stoking fear nationwide in the name of cow protection.
“We want an independent judicial inquiry into Sunday’s incident. Of late,violence against Muslims in the state has increased and only an impartial probe will ensure that those guilty are punished,” Ajmal told BenarNews.
While condemning the “unforunate incident,” the BJP assured that those responsible for the violence would not be spared.
“Branding people as cattle thieves and [killing] them is completely unacceptable. A detailed investigation will follow and anyone found guilty will be punished,” R.P. Sharma, a BJP lawmaker from Assam, told BenarNews.