India police arrest 3 over cow vigilante murder

Farmer Pehlu Khan died after hundreds of vigilantes attacked his cattle trucks on a highway in Alwar in the state of Rajasthan.
Farmer Pehlu Khan died after hundreds of vigilantes attacked his cattle trucks on a highway in Alwar in the state of Rajasthan.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Police said Thursday (April 6) they have arrested three people for murder over the death of a Muslim man attacked while transporting cows in northern India, where vigilantes patrol the streets to protect the animal Hindus consider sacred.

Pehlu Khan, a 55-year-old farmer, died of his injuries on Monday after hundreds of vigilantes attacked his cattle trucks on a highway in Alwar in the state of Rajasthan.

Police are still trying to identify most of the 200 vigilantes who attacked Khan and injured six others as they transported dozens of cows into a neighbouring state.

Alwar police chief Rahul Prakash said they arrested three late Wednesday after examining video footage shot by onlookers and broadcast by the media.

"We saw the videos and identified at least five people who were at the spot. We called those five people to the police station and found that three of them were directly involved in assault on the victims," Prakash told AFP.

Slaughtering cows is illegal in many Indian states and some also require a licence for transporting them across state borders.

Prakash said police have registered a murder case against all three and have arrested 11 survivors of the attack, charging them under various sections of Rajasthan's cow protection law.

Vigilante squads that roam India's highways inspecting livestock trucks for any trace of the animal have proliferated since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.

Rajasthan's BJP home minister Gulab Chand Kataria told reporters earlier that both sides were to blame for the incident on Saturday.

Khan's death sparked outrage Thursday in India's upper house of parliament, where opposition lawmakers shouted slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP government.

"(The) new vision for India that Narendra Modi ji is propagating... is a vision where only one idea will prevail," said Rahul Gandhi, vice president of the opposition Congress party.

"Any other idea, anybody who doesn't listen to and agree with Narendra Modi, has no place in India," he told reporters outside parliament.

At least 10 Muslim men have been killed in similar incidents across the country by Hindu mobs on suspicion of eating beef or smuggling cows in the last two years.

In 2015 a Muslim man was lynched by his neighbours over rumours that he had slaughtered a cow. Police later said the meat was mutton.

Last month a hotel manager was beaten by a mob and his restaurant sealed in Jaipur after Hindu vigilantes accused him of serving beef.

Last year, Modi criticised the cow-protection vigilantes and urged a crackdown against groups using religion as a cover for committing crimes.