On Monday, September 28th, Mohammad Akhlaq, 50, died a brutal death outside his home in a village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, just 30 miles from the capital, New Delhi.
Akhlaq, a Muslim, was lynched by a Hindu mob over allegedly killing and eating a cow, which is sacred to many Hindus. His son, Danish, was attacked, too, and is now in critical condition.
According to the Indian media, the mob was stirred into action while worshipping at a Hindu temple when there was an announcement that Akhlaq and his family had killed a cow. Enraged, the devotees gathered, marched to Akhlaq’s house, dragged Akhlaq and his son out, and beat them with bricks and stones, his daughter told the Indian Express the next day. The family denies eating beef, saying the meat at home was only mutton (goat).
The police arrested six of the alleged perpetrators and has sent meat from the family’s refrigerator for forensic analysis to doublecheck.
Beef has been a divisive issue in Indian politics for decades, and it is a particularly important issue for Hindu nationalist parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party, of which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a member.
When Modi was running for elections in 2014, he accused the then-ruling party, the Indian National Congress, of subsidizing the beef industry. Earlier this year, the state of Maharashtra banned selling or possessing beef. The state already had a ban on killing cows, but this year it extended that ban to buffaloes and bullock, too. The state of Jammu and Kashmir also has a decades-old ban on killing cows, but it was rarely enforced until this year.
As for the attack on the Akhlaqs, several BJP leaders have publicly sympathized with the mob — not the victims.
"Why responsibility to keep peace and maintain calm is always put on the Hindus alone? Be a victim and maintain silence in face of assaults!!" tweeted BJP leader, Tarun Vijay.
Why responsibility to keep peace and maintain calm is always put on the Hindus alone? Be a victim and maintain silence in face of assaults!!— Tarun Vijay (@Tarunvijay) October 1, 2015
"The police have arrested innocent people,” said Vichitra Tomar, a local leader, according to the Times of India. The newspaper also reported that Tomar demanded the government take legal action against those who slaughter cows and in doing so, are “hurting Hindu sentiments.” Some BJP leaders are also demanding the release of the six men arrested.
As the online Indian news website Scroll reported today, young people in Akhlaq’s village and elsewhere have for a while received news items and gruesome videos about cow slaughter through Whatsapp, suggesting an ongoing social media campaign to mobilize youth against the killing and eating of cows.
Modi’s opponents and critics say this recent incident and the growing movement to ban beef around the country, is a sign of a growing intolerance towards minorities, as beef is eaten by Muslims, Christians and lower-caste Hindus.