MUMBAI (REUTERS) - Suspected vigilantes on Saturday (July 21) killed a Muslim man transporting two cows in India, just 15 months after a similar attack put a spotlight on the growing influence of pro-Hindu fringe groups.
Many Hindus regard the cow as sacred, but India's Muslim minority engages in the trade of cattle - chiefly buffalo meat - for slaughter and consumption as well as dairy purposes.
Police in the northwestern state of Rajasthan said a group of five to seven people surrounded the man, identified only as Akbar, as he led the cows to his village in the nearby state of Haryana and thrashed him to death on suspicion of cow smuggling.
"We are investigating the incident and will make arrests soon," Shyam Singh, a police official in the district of Alwar, told Reuters.
The incident took place soon after midnight, triggered by the suspicions of a few nearby villagers that the 28-year-old man was smuggling the cows, Singh said. Akbar belonged to the farming community in adjacent Haryana.
Cow vigilantism by pro-Hindu groups has surged in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014, although most of the country's 29 states have banned the killing of cows for meat.
Police said they took the badly beaten victim to a nearby hospital, but he was declared dead.
"En route, the victim identified himself as Akbar and said he was accompanied by another friend, who managed to escape," another district police official, Anil Kumar Beniwal, told Reuters by telephone.
Beniwal said police had identified four or five suspects and expected to make arrests by evening.
In a post on Twitter, Rajasthan's chief minister condemned the incident and promised stern action.
"The strictest possible action shall be taken against the perpetrators," said Vasundhara Raje, a member of Modi's BJP.
In the same district in April 2017, Pehlu Khan, a cattle farmer, was lynched by a mob as he rode home from a market with two cows and two calves in the back of his truck.
The incident fuelled concerns over how pro-Hindu fringe groups, such as the cow vigilantes, were fearlessly flouting the law to operate as private militias.