08/28/2006, 00.00
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Five Dalits lynched to death for skinning cow, sacred to Hindus

They were skinning a dead cow. Police and local authorities looked on while extremists massacred and burned the victims.

Mumbai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – They were lynched to death by a furious mob for skinning a cow, traditionally held by Hindus to be sacred, while the police looked on. Five Dalits – Indian untouchables – met this fate at the police post of Dulena in Jhajjar district in the northern state of Haryana. The five outcasts, all aged under 20, were beaten to death and two were burned alive. Their sin was to do their job: skinning cows that they acquire dead so they can sell their skin and earn money to survive. This time, someone spread the rumour that the animal was still alive. Fomented by Hindu extremists and with police complicity, around 2,000 people – locals and some from neighbouring villages – slaughtered the Dalits.

According to a reconstruction of the crime reported by the daily Indian Express, the five Dalits saw the crowd and fled to a nearby police station. They were dragged out by the mob without opposition from the security and civil authorities. Raj Pal Singh, the town magistrate, who was there when the men were being lynched, justified himself by saying: ''We tried stopping them but got hurt ourselves in the process. I was dragged a few feet away, otherwise I would have been killed.''

No arrests have been carried out: all the police have in hand is a report filed against ''unknown people". However, the police force proved zealous in formally incriminating the five victims for having killed a cow.

District Commissioner Mohinder Kumar said 'Local Vishwa Hindu Parishad workers (VHP or World Hindu Council, one of the most brutal factions of the  Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and some anti-social elements were spotted at the scene." Kumar himself claimed he reached the scene of the massacre late "because of a traffic jam".

The VHP and local Hindu priests have urged police not to take any action against the murderers. ''If they (the Dalits) can kill our mother then what if we kill our brothers who kill her,'' says Mahendra Parmanand, the priest of the local temple.

Hindus from upper castes maintain the cow is their mother so they venerate it. All the same, when it dies, they abandon the creature, and the task of skinning it, to the Dalits.

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