A Muslim man has died in western India after he was attacked by hundreds of Hindu cow protection vigilantes, the latest attack in a spate of mob killings in the name of the revered animal.
Police said on Wednesday that Pehlu Khan, 55, had died in hospital two days after a group attacked his cattle truck on a road in Alwar in the desert state of Rajasthan.
Gangs of “cow protectors” have been implicated in killing at least 10 people in the past two years as the welfare of the animal has become an increasingly charged issue in Indian politics.
Cows are revered by most of India’s majority Hindu community and beef consumption is permitted in only eight of the country’s 29 states and territories.
Alwar’s police chief, Rahul Prakash, told AFP at least six others were injured in the attack, but they had now been discharged from hospital.
Police posted a 5,000-rupee (£62) reward to help identify the attackers and have listed more than 200 people as suspects in the murder case.
“We are yet to receive the postmortem report, but [the victim] had multiple rib fractures,” Prakash said.
Khan was driving in a convoy of six cattle transport trucks and returning to his home state of Haryana when the mob intercepted his vehicle.
Video of the attack was broadcast on Indian television, showing the men being beaten with iron rods and sticks.
Cow protection has been a trigger for sectarian violence throughout modern Indian history and its resurgence since 2015 has been linked to an increasingly assertive Hindu nationalist movement.
India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, won office in 2014 pledging to ban beef across India, and calls to declare the cow India’s national animal have grown since his election.
Illustrating the careful path some Indian politicians walk in discussing the violence, the Rajasthan home minister said on Wednesday the vigilantes had “done a good job by protecting cows from smuggling”.
“But they have violated the law by beating people brutally,” Gulab Chand Kataria said.
Police are regularly accused of working alongside cow-protection vigilantes and one state, Haryana, announced plans last year to license some of the groups.
In September 2015 a Muslim man from a village near Delhi was lynched after being accused of storing beef in his freezer.
Modi rebuked the vigilantes last August after videos emerged showing young Dalits – India’s least socially dominant caste, tasked with disposing of dead cows – being flogged for handling the animals’ carcasses.
Cattle slaughter has become a prominent issue again in the past month after Modi’s party selected a Hindu monk with a history of incendiary remarks about minorities to run the country’s most populous state.
Yogi Adityanath commenced his administration of Uttar Pradesh state by cracking down on illegal slaughterhouses, sparking a four-day protest by butchers across the country.
Most Hindus eschew beef, but it is regularly consumed by some in the country’s south, as well as by Muslims, Christians and traditionally poorer castes, who regard the animal as a cheap source of protein.
Last week Gujarat state raised the sentence for cow slaughter to life imprisonment. The chief minister of another state, Chhattisgarh, said at the weekend that anyone caught killing cows there would be hanged.
Another five people were injured in clashes in Delhi this week after a woman was accused of warding off a cow by throwing stones at the animal.