Updated at 7:28 a.m. ET on 2017-06-30
In his strongest statement against violence targeting minority Muslims across India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday deplored a spate of killings of people in the name of protecting cows, which are seen as sacred in the Hindu-majority nation.
The leader of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) issued his remarks a day after thousands of citizens protested in several cities across the country against recent attacks on Muslims by self-styled cow vigilantes.
“Killing people in the name of cow protection is not acceptable. No person in this nation has the right to take law into his or her hands,” Modi said during a visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat, the prime minister’s home state. “Violence never has and never will solve any problem.”
Cattle slaughter and consumption of beef is banned in most states of India.
“This [the violence] is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve of. We are the land of non-violence. We are the land of Mahatma Gandhi. Why do we forget this,” Modi said in a speech to mark the centennial celebration of Sabarmati Ashram, where Gandhi lived for about 12 years.
Another act of the violence that Modi condemned took place on the same day of his speech.
On Thursday, a Muslim man was beaten to death by a mob in Jharkhand state on suspicion that he was carrying beef in his vehicle, police said.
Kilshore Police Superintendent Kaushal told reporters that about 30 people surrounded a van bearing a West Bengal plate, pulled out its driver and attacked him, according to the news agency Press Trust of India.
On Tuesday, a 200-strong mob attacked a Muslim dairy farmer and tried to set his house ablaze in the eastern state of Jharkhand after villagers found a dead cow in the vicinity, police said, adding that they were forced to fire shots into the air to control the mob.
“The dairy farmer is out of danger. We are trying to identify the suspects who partook in the violence,” a police official said on condition of anonymity.
The attack followed two similar incidents of mob violence last week that claimed the lives of four Muslims, one of them a teenager, in West Bengal and Haryana.
‘The hounds have already tasted the blood’
A social media campaign that started under the hashtag #NotInMyName turned into a mass movement Wednesday, with thousands of Indian citizens, including celebrities, gathering in different cities to protest what they called a sharp increase in violence related to cow protection since Modi’s right-wing BJP swept to power three years ago.
About 97 percent of the 63 cases of beef-related violence recorded during the last seven years occurred after the BJP came to power in May 2014, according to statistics released Thursday by Indiaspend, a New Delhi-based data journalism initiative.
It said that among the 28 people killed in the attacks, 24 were Muslims. About 14 percent of India's 1.3 billion people are Muslims, while Hindus make up 80 percent.
“In 23 attacks, the attackers were mobs or groups who belonged to Hindu groups” with affiliation to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), BJP’s ideological mentor, it said.
Government critics said Modi’s speech against recent incidents of mob violence was merely hogwash.
“He never once said that his government will make efforts to stop this violence,” political analyst Pradip Bhattacharya told BenarNews. “He is just a stooge in the hands of the RSS, which is encouraging these cow vigilantes to attack any suspected cattle smuggler or beef eater that belongs to the minority communities.”
This was the second time since his party’s landslide victory in 2014 that Modi has spoken out against beef-related violence.
Last August, Modi castigated the actions of self-styled cow protectors who were attacking suspected cattle thieves and beef eaters. The prime minister also asked all states to prepare dossiers on cow vigilantes.
“But there are no reports of even a single state doing so,” Bhattacharya said. “Modi’s words are nothing but lip service, it seems.”
Patricia Mukhim, editor of The Shillong Times in northeastern state of Meghalaya, which is India’s top beef consumer, described Modi’s speech as “too little, too late.”
“The hounds have already tasted blood. And no one is actually trying to rein them in,” Mukhim told BenarNews.
Even some BJP supporters came out on the streets Wednesday to protest incidents of mob violence.
“I am a proud Hindu,” Raj Pathak, a social activist from New Delhi, told BenarNews. “But I stand against anyone getting violent with another person in the name of religion.”