An enraged mob attacked and beat to death a 50-year-old man who had been suspected of eating beef: a practice that is prohibited to followers of Hinduism that is actually outlawed in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The Muslim Mohammad Ikhlaq and his 22-year-old son, Danish, were dragged from their home by 100 villagers at a place called Dadri, about 30 miles from India’s capital city, Delhi. The young Ikhlaq is alive but currently in intensive care at a local hospital.
Less than an hour before the deadly incident on the evening of September 28, an announcement was made at a Hindu temple that a calf had been slaughtered and its carcass thrown near a transformer. While no names were mentioned in the temple announcement, since there are but two Muslim families in the vicinity, the ire of the mob focused on the Ikhlaq residence. The other family was not present at the time of the attack. The Ikhlaq family had lived in the area for generations and had regularly showed hospitality to their Hindu neighbors. Sajida Ikhlaq, the daughter of the deceased, said that tensions had been brewing.
It was approximately 10.30 pm, when the mob descended on Ikhlaq's house, vandalizing the home and contents, and attacked Ikhlaq’s wife, daughter, and 70-year-old mother. Ikhlaq’s wife told the media, "My husband's head was smashed in." When police arrived on the scene, the furious Hindus were still beating the hapless Ikhlaq and his son. Police arrested six Hindu males at the Ikhlaq home, attesting that they were drunk. The young Hindu men had picked up stones with which to pummel Ikhlaq. Among those arrested was a babaji: a Hindu religious leader. After questioning, he was released. According to local superintendent of police Kiran Sajida, approximately 100 people comprised the furious throng.
Ikhlaq's daughter said they had mutton, not beef, in the family’s refrigerator. The meat had been given to them by relatives in celebration of Eid: the end of Ramadan fasting. Police have taken it for forensic testing. Killing beef cattle is illegal in Uttar Pradesh.
Police are also trying to determine who started the rumors. Western Uttar Pradesh is prone to trouble, especially sectarian strife, at the slightest provocation. When news of the arrests spread to the rest of the area, villagers then clashed with police. Officers were forced to fire into the air, allegedly striking a 20-year-old male in the leg. As various accounts of the incident swirled on social media, the district administration warned trouble-makers, "If a digital war against communal harmony is initiated then the guilty will be punished. But our first concern is to stop any such thing and we are working on it," said NP Singh, the district magistrate.
Beef slaughter is a sensitive matter in India. Beef is sacred among the country’s Hindus, who constitute 80 percent of the country's 1.2 billion people. Uttar Pradesh is among a number of Indian states where laws banning beef slaughter have been tightened and the sale and consumption of beef forbidden. The ban has provoked outrage among those who question why the government should regulate what they eat.
"Some locals spread rumors that Akhlaq had cow meat at his home and engaged in cow slaughter. Following the rumors, they attacked his home," Singh told The Indian Express newspaper.
Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.