The victims had been accused of planning to steal cattle. Two people have been arrested on murder charges. Episodes of intolerance towards minorities have increased with the rise of Hindu nationalists. At least, ten Muslims have been killed since 2015.
Guwahati (AsiaNews) – Two Muslims were lynched on Sunday by a “cow protection” mob in Nagaon, a district in the Indian state of Assam, allegedly for planning to steal some of the animals deemed sacred by Hindus.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Ram Puniyani, president of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, slammed the latest case of violence against religious minorities.
The latter are increasingly targeted by Hindu nationalist extremists since Narendra Modi and the Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) took over the Union government in 2014, buoyed more recently by the victory of Yogi Adityanath, a radical guru, in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
"These incidents,” Puniyani said, “have been instigated by cow protection policies approved by government authorities. It is an emotional-identity subject that the BJP uses to polarise society along religious lines." However, these incidents are not due a supposed "love for cows, but rather to a feeling of hatred against Muslims," said the secular-oriented activist.
The two victims, Abu Hanifa and Riyazuddin Ali, were aged 20 and 25 respectively. They were chased by people for about 1.5 kilometres and beaten with sticks. When police arrived on the scene, their conditions were desperate. Brought to hospital, they died from their injuries. The police later arrested two people on charges of murder.
The cow is a sacred animal for Hindus and eating it is an outrage to the gods. However, Hindu nationalists have used this to put pressure on Christian and Muslim minorities, who raise and rely on livestock to make a living.
In many states, slaughtering and eating beef has been banned; however, this has not been limited to Hindus but has been imposed on others as well, forcing them to follow practices outside of their religious beliefs.
Some human rights groups report that since 2015 at least ten Muslims have been murdered for allegedly stealing, selling, or slaughtering beef.
Suspicion alone of illegally slaughtering cows can trigger episodes of extreme violence, such as the murder of a Muslim family man who was torched in Uttar Pradesh in 2015 by an angry mob of Hindu extremists who had accused him of eating beef. After months of investigation, it was discovered that the meat was buffalo. Last year in Gujarat, four Dalits were beaten for skinning a cow (in fact it was a lion).
NGOs complain that the situation has worsened since the BJP won in recent local elections. Indeed, one of the first acts of the new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, was to close illegal slaughterhouses to protect cows. Similarly, the Gujarat government has imposed jail time and a fine of 100,000 rupees (US$ 1,550) on anyone who kills a cow.
In early April, a 55-year-old Muslim died in Rajasthan following two painful days after he was kicked and punched by a mob of Hindu radicals who had accused him of illegally transporting cattle (he had actually bought the animals legally at a livestock fair).
In view of such repeated cases of violence, Ram Puniyani said that "The ruling party turns consciously a blind eye because such incidents help them in politically mobilising their base and reinforce their political agenda."