TIME India

Rumors Over the Slaughter of Sacred Cattle Set Northern Indian State on Edge

Many Hindus consider cows to be holy animals

Indian police have imposed strict restrictions on the movement of people in parts of Jammu and Kashmir following the death of a 16-year-old Muslim truck driver, who was attacked by a Hindu mob.

The crowd were incensed by rumors that three cows had been slaughtered in a Hindu-majority section of the restive northern state, the Press Trust of India reports. Many — though not all — Hindus consider cows to be sacred, and a number of Indian states have laws restricting the killing of the animals.

Zahid Ahmad Bhat died on Oct. 18 at a hospital in the Indian capital, New Delhi, where he had been moved for treatment for severe burn injuries after the mob attacked his truck on Oct. 9. He was laid to rest at a funeral in his village on Oct. 19.

The death follows the killing of a 50-year-old Muslim man in the state of Uttar Pradesh in September after mob attacked his home amid rumors, later shown to be false, that his family had consumed and stored beef at their home. On Oct. 14, a 20-year-old truck driver was killed by a village mob in the state of Himachal Pradesh amid rumors that he was part of a cattle-smuggling gang.

Such lynchings are fueling growing concerns about the rise of religious violence in the country under the rule of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Last week, Manohar Lal Khattar, a top BJP politician and the chief minister of the northern state of Haryana, told a newspaper: “Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef … The cow is an article of faith here.”

The former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, said that the BJP and its affiliates were “directly responsible” for creating a climate of intolerance in which the killings have taken place.

News of Bhat’s death over the weekend led to tensions in Jammu and Kashmir, prompting local law enforcement to enforce a near curfew.

Seven men have been arrested so far for the attack but officials say that the main accused is still at large.

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