By Bijay Kumar Minj
Five days after a mob of Hindus beat to death a Catholic man for suspected cow slaughter in India’s Jharkhand state, Christian and Muslim activists joined in New Delhi to protest about violence against minorities.
A mob attacked Prakash Lakra and three others on April 10 after suspecting them of slaughtering a cow in Jhurmu village in the eastern state’s Gumla district. Lakra died from his injuries hours after the attack, church sources said.
About 100 protesters gathered in front of the Jharkhand Bhawan building in New Delhi on April 15 to shout slogans against the state government run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “Such violence is nothing but a strategy to terrorize minorities and polarize the country in the name of religion for votes,” said Christian leader A.C. Michael, a protest organizer.
Speakers said violence in the name of protecting cows, which are revered animals in Hinduism, has increased ever since the BJP came to power in New Delhi. Hindu groups stepped up violence against Christians and Muslims because they considered the BJP victory a mandate for them to push for their goal of establishing a Hindu-only nation, activists said.
“We had never heard of people killing in the name of religion in our area. We tribals here respect each other irrespective of our faith. It is very unfortunate and shocking,” said Father Cyprian Kullu, vicar general of Gumla Diocese in Jharkhand.
He told ucanews.com that Lakra and his friends did not slaughter a cow. An aged ox slipped in a pit and died and villagers decided to take its skin to be used. But some people from neighboring Jairagi village who were passing through Lakra’s village saw the incident and reported it back in their Hindu village as cow slaughter, the priest said.
“A group of people came back by evening and began beating the four involved. They also took them to a nearby police station, where Lakra’s condition deteriorated. He was rushed to a nearby hospital but was declared dead,” Father Kullu said.
The diocese suspects some people with vested interests instigated the murder and is calling for a thorough investigation, the priest said.
Senior police official M.L. Meena told media on April 13 that the attackers were armed with iron bars and sticks and attacked the victims brutally. Two men have been arrested for alleged murder and five more are on the run, Meena said.
“So far the investigation has shown the ox died naturally. We are doing a thorough probe,” he said. Cow slaughter and the consumption of beef are illegal in Jharkhand and 19 other states in India but the restricted slaughter of other bovines like water buffalo is allowed. Violators face up to 10 years in jail and or a fine of 10,000 rupees (US$150) in Jharkhand.
In 2017, the BJP government tried to ban cattle slaughter for trade nationwide, but the plan was rejected by the Supreme Court. Cow vigilantism gained widespread attention when Mohammad Akhlaq, a Muslim farmer from Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, was lynched for allegedly possessing beef in his house in September 2015.
However, laboratory tests proved the meat was not beef.
Since May 2015, at least 12 people have been killed in cow-related violence, while at least 25 have died in such incidents since 2010 and 21 of them were Muslims, according to a recent report by IndiaSpend, a data website. At least 139 people were also injured in these attacks.
More than half of the attacks were based on rumors, it said.
“It is a matter of concern that this happened in a remote tribal village … because it is a new thing there and it proves that fanatics have landed even in the remote villages of the country,” said Mukti Prakash Tirkey, editor of a weekly newspaper on tribal affairs published from New Delhi.
Mohamed Asim, a student who joined the New Delhi protest, said that “the present government treats Muslims, Christians, Dalits and tribal people as second-class citizens. Hence their supporters do not hesitate to attack them at any time.”