NEW DELHI • Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday broke his silence over attacks on those accused of eating beef or slaughtering cows, saying that killing in the name of an animal sacred to Hindus was wrong.
A week ago, a Muslim boy was stabbed to death on a train on suspicion of possessing beef - the latest of an estimated 28 people killed in cow-related violence in Hindu-majority India since 2010. Four people have been arrested over the murder, police said yesterday.
Most of the victims were killed after Mr Modi and his Hindu nationalist party won elections in 2014.
"Killing people in the name of gau bhakti is not acceptable," he told a crowd at a Hindu ashram, or place of meditation, referring to cow worship. "No person in this nation has the right to take the law in his or her own hands," he said at the ashram dedicated to pacifist Mahatma Gandhi in Gujarat.
Mr Modi said protecting cows was right, but should be done legally.
The slaughter of cows is banned, and consumption of beef restricted, in most states. But millions in the minority Muslim and lower-caste Hindu communities depend on work in the meat and leather industries.
Mr Modi has to juggle the demands of right-wing Hindu groups intent on promoting Hindu ideology and protecting cows, and the need to promote development and an image of a modern, secular India befitting its rising economic influence.
No person in this nation has the right to take the law in his or her own hands.
INDIAN PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI, on attacks against those accused of eating beef or slaughtering cows.
On Wednesday, protests were held in several cities - with placards that said "Not in my name" - to denounce the lynchings and to pressure the government to do more.
Critics and opposition politicians accuse Mr Modi of failing to condemn the violence and the "cow protection" groups, some with links to his party, which is accused of fomenting the attacks - a charge that the Bharatiya Janata Party denies.
"I am glad the Prime Minister finally came out and said something, but it is not enough... We want action," said Congress party MP Renuka Chowdhury. "What is the government going to do? What action plan do they have... Are we to live in terror?"
Vigilante groups that seize cows from people accused of illegally transporting them, or sending them for slaughter, have stepped up operations in recent years.
Concerns that Mr Modi will edge towards redefining India as a Hindu nation were fanned in March when he named a hardline Hindu priest as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Yogi Adityanath, who has cracked down on illegal abattoirs, has a history of agitation against Muslims.
Mr Modi's party has consistently said it does not make any distinction between citizens on the basis of religion. Muslims make up 14 per cent of India's 1.3 billion people.
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE