KOLKATA (AFP) - Villagers in eastern India beat two Muslim cattle truckers to death on Sunday, police said, in yet another lynching on the pretext of protecting a beast considered sacred by many Hindus.
The drivers were transporting cows in West Bengal near the border with Bangladesh when they were stopped by villagers, police said.
"The villagers blocked the road and forced them to stop the vehicle. The two men were then dragged out of the vehicle and lynched. The driver of the vehicle escaped," said senior West Bengal police official Anuj Sharma.
It was too early to say whether the murders were motivated by religion or suspicions the men were mistreating the cows, police added.
An investigation is underway into the lynching and into whether the drivers had legally purchased the cattle or were smugglers involved in the illicit beef trade.
West Bengal permits cow slaughter, unlike many Indian states where possession or consumption of beef is banned, and some where life sentences are imposed for breaking the law.
India has been reeling this year from a spate of vigilante murders, especially targeting Muslims for allegedly killing cows or consuming beef.
There has been a surge in attacks by "cow protection" vigilante groups, who roam highways inspecting livestock trucks for any trace of the animal.
In June, three Muslims were beaten to death in West Bengal after they were allegedly caught stealing cows.
That same month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned killing in the name of cow protection after a Muslim teenager accused of carrying beef was stabbed to death on a train.
In April, a Muslim man was beaten to death by a mob in Rajasthan state after they discovered cows in his truck. The man was a dairy farmer transporting milk cows.
The following month, two Muslims were beaten to death on suspicion of stealing cows. In both cases, police were accused of failing to act quickly enough to protect the victims.
Mr Modi's critics say vigilantes have been emboldened by the election in 2014 of his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, which promised to completely outlaw cow slaughter across India.