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Indian mob kills farmer rumored to have eaten beef

A Muslim farmworker has been dragged from his home in an Indian village and beaten to death by an angry mob after rumours were spread that his family had been eating beef and storing the meat in their home.

The attack — which occurred late on Monday in a community just 45km from New Delhi and left the man's 22-year-old son critically injured — is the latest in a series of vigilante attacks against people in India suspected of involvement in the transport and slaughter of cattle.

It reflects the increasingly febrile environment over cows in India, where many devout Hindus revere the animals as near-deities but religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians treat beef as a source of inexpensive protein.

Cow slaughter has always been a sensitive and sometimes incendiary issue, and has sometimes triggered communal conflagrations. Many Indian states have bans on killing the animals, and mob attacks on those suspected of killing cows are not unknown.

But under the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has himself bemoaned India's surging meat exports, rhetoric over the need for stronger protection of cows has grown more heated.

Hindu rightwing groups affiliated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata party have called for a national ban on slaughtering cows. In Maharashtra, a ban on cow slaughter took effect earlier this year, while the BJP government in Rajasthan has vowed to widen its prohibition on killing cows, with tough new rules that bar their transport for slaughter and permit the impounding of trucks used in the trade.

"There has been a bit of rallying around this discourse of how Muslims and Christians kills cows, and it's an emotive issue because pious Hindus do worship them," says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "It's dangerous rhetoric which can spiral into violence."

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Family members of Mohammad Akhlaq, the man killed this week in Dadri, said their father was dragged from their home and stoned by the mob at around 10pm on Monday, after calls from a temple loudspeaker urged local residents to gather at the family's home and claimed they had slaughtered a calf, which the family denied.

The attack came just days after the Eid festival, when many Muslims slaughter goats or other animals for a celebratory feast. But tensions over cows are multiplying.

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In late July, 10 people were seriously injured in a clash in north-east Delhi, after a mob attacked men for allegedly transporting cow hides. In southern India, rightwing Hindu groups have attacked trucks carrying cows from states where cow slaughter is banned to Kerala, where it is legal.

Ms Ganguly said this week's attack reflected a wider trend towards vigilante justice in India, where the criminal justice system is seen to be largely ineffective.

"The fact that this righteous mob believes it has the privilege of taking the law in its own hands is something that needs to be addressed by an effective criminal justice system," she said. "The fact that mobs are expressing their moral outrage over something, and they feel justified in taking this kind of action, is a crisis in the public faith over the rule of law."