A woman shouts during a 2017 protest against the mob lynching of Muslims. Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

A Muslim man was beaten to death while taking two cows to his village in Rajasthan’s Alwar district, apparently by vigilantes who suspected the dairy owner of involvement in smuggling activities.

The attack came only days after the Supreme Court of India had condemned violence against minority communities, as well as vigilante actions. And it put renewed scrutiny on the actions of police officers, who have been accused of taking part in the assault.

Police said Rakbar Khan, 28, who was from Haryana’s Mewat district, was surrounded by a group of five to seven men who became suspicious when he appeared with the cows shortly after midnight on Saturday. The critically injured man was declared dead after being taken to hospital.

Villagers have said Rakbar was muddied but alive when police found him and are questioning how his condition deteriorated. Some, including Naval Kishore Sharma — who accompanied the police — have said they saw officers assaulting Rakbar at a police station.

A man identified as Aslam who was with Rakbar when he was attacked but managed to escape unharmed, named five persons as being responsible in his statement to Rajasthan police. Three have reportedly been arrested.

According to the First Information Report on the case, the call to police came from Naval Kishore Sharma, who is chief of Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Gau Raksha cell in Ramgarh. Gau Raksha is a Hindu nationalist right-wing federation of cattle protection movements.

There have been previous incidents involving Hindu extremist groups that object to the slaughter and consumption of cattle by India’s minority Muslims. Cows are considered by many Hindus to be sacred.

Sharma said he accompanied police to the site of the beating, where Rakbar was washed and given dry clothing. He was then taken to the Ramgarh police station, with officers even stopping to have tea. It was three hours before he was taken to the nearest hospital, only four kilometers from Lalawandi, the village in Alwar where the incident occurred.

Police assaulted Rakbar while questioning him at the police station, Sharma told the Indian Express. Sharma left with the seized animals, which were then put in a cow shelter at 3am. Sharma said that when he returned to the police station, Rakbar had “collapsed”.

Rakbar was taken to the Ramgarh Community Health Center and pronounced dead on arrival. Anil Beniwal, Alwar’s Additional Superintendent of Police, said doctors who conducted a post-mortem found Rakbar had fractured ribs and died due to internal bleeding.

A Member of the Legislative Assembly from Ramgarh, Gyan Dev Ahuja, has reportedly questioned the police’s role and demanded a judicial inquiry to find out exactly how the dairy owner died.

After doubts rose about the police version of events on Sunday,  investigation of the case was handed to Vandana Bhati, Additional Superintendent of Police in Crime and Vigilance department under the Jaipur Range.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court lashed out at what it called “horrendous acts of mobocracy”, asking the federal government to draft legislation curbing such incidents and to ensure the “pluralistic social fabric” of the country holds against mob violence.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not commit to drafting a new law, but said in the lower house of parliament that state governments should take strong action against people involved in such cases.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje tweeted on Saturday: “The incident of alleged lynching of a person transporting bovines in Alwar district is condemnable. Strictest possible action shall be taken against the perpetrators.” She belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules both the state of Rajasthan and the federal government of India.

Raje has been criticised for failing to curb incidences of mob violence and crimes against women and minority communities. There was another case of a cow-related vigilante attack at Alwar last year, with Haryana-based dairy farmer Pehlu Khan losing his life.

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