NEW DELHI (AFP) - Villagers in northern India beat a Muslim man to death for attempting to smuggle cattle for slaughter, police said on Friday (Oct 16), the latest victim of soaring religious tensions in a country where the majority consider cows sacred.
Twenty-year-old Noman, whose full name is not known, and four others were severely beaten before being handed over to police in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh on Thursday, according to officials.
Police said the five smugglers were attacked by villagers after abandoning their vehicle, which was crammed full of cows and bulls, next to a highway after it broke down on the way to neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state.
"The other four persons are in a good state but Noman died because of his injuries," Soumya Sambasivan, superintendent of police in Sirmaur district told AFP, adding that the victim was Muslim.
"We have registered a second case against yet unidentified persons for murder," Sambasivan said, referring to an earlier case registered against the smugglers for animal cruelty. "For now, it looks entirely unrelated to any group or entity."
The killing comes less than a month after the lynching by villagers of Muslim Mohammad Akhlaq, who was dragged from his home near to New Delhi and beaten to death by a hardline Hindu mob over unsubstantiated rumours he had eaten beef.
Cows are considered sacred by Hindus, and beef eating has become a highly contentious issue since Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power, with some states banning the practice.
The chief minister of northern Haryana state, Manohar Lal Khattar, drew ire on Friday after saying that India's minority Muslims should stop eating beef out of respect to practising Hindus.
"Muslims can live here, but in this country, they will have to stop eating beef," Khattar, a member of the ruling BJP, told The Indian Express newspaper. He later said his comments had been distorted.
Cattle smuggling and tension over their illegal slaughter is routine in the Himachal Pradesh region, according to police, and villagers frequently beat those whom they catch.
Despite the slaughter of cows being widely banned, India ranks as the world's top beef exporter thanks largely to buffalo meat exports, according to the US Department of Agriculture.