Villagers in Himachal Pradesh have killed a Muslim man for allegedly smuggling cattle, police said Saturday, in violence critics say is fueled by the Hindu nationalist government seeking a nationwide ban of cow slaughter and beef trade, agencies report.

Cows being transported to a slaughter house in this file photo
Cows being transported to a slaughter house in this file photo

India is the world’s largest exporter of beef and its fifth biggest consumer, but cow slaughter is forbidden in some regions, including the state of Himachal Pradesh, as many Hindus regard the animal as sacred.

A group of local villagers attacked the victim, Noman, and four others Wednesday evening after seeing them transporting cattle in a truck towards Nahan-Paonta Sahib bordering Dehradun, a senior police official said.

Suspecting that the cattle were being taken to Uttar Pradesh for slaughter, some of the villagers chased the truck which soon crashed as the driver, in panic, failed to negotiate a sharp turn on Sarahan-Nahan road.

The villagers secured the cattle and beat up the four in the truck along with Noman who arrived in an escort vehicle.

The five men finally managed to escape by rolling down a mountain. Four of them were later caught and handed them over to the police.

The next day, police found Noman by the mountainside in a critical condition.  He died in the evening while undergoing treatment in a hospital.

Police have charged the four detained with animal smuggling and cow slaughter.

They are yet to make any arrests as the four people in their custody have been unable to identify the attackers.

“We showed them photographs of the villagers for identification, but none of the attackers have been identified yet. Investigation can progress only if they identify the attackers,” said Soumya Sambasivan, the local police superintendent.

“As it was a mob attack, we have registered the case for murder against unknown people,” she said.

Initial reports suggest that Noman was allegedly involved in the smuggling of cattle to Uttar Pradesh.

This was, however, denied by his family who said he was innocent and that he was hired by some people for transporting machinery in a truck.

Two weeks ago, another Muslim man had died after being kicked and beaten by a group of Hindus over rumours he ate beef in the town of Dadri, 50 km (30 miles) from the national capital, New Delhi.

Beef is widely eaten by Hindus in parts of the south, as well as by other groups including minority Muslims and Christians. Cow slaughter and beef trade is run mostly by Muslims.

Tougher measures to safeguard cows are often used as a rallying call by politicians seeking to win Hindu votes.

Opponents have accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of looking to create religious tension in order to polarise voters in a crucial and tough election that began in phases in the northern state of Bihar earlier this month.

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