BISARA, India — Indian police arrested eight people and were searching for two more Wednesday after villagers allegedly beat a Muslim farmer to death and severely injured his son upon hearing rumors that the family was eating beef — a taboo for many among India’s majority Hindu population.
The mob of about 60 Hindus became incensed when a temple announced that the family had been slaughtering cows and storing the beef in their house in Bisara, a village about 45 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of the Indian capital of New Delhi, said District Magistrate Nagendra Pratap Singh.
He said the mob dragged 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq and his son from their home Monday night and beat them with sticks and bricks. Akhlaq was declared dead at a nearby hospital, while his son was being treated for serious injuries.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, took office last year, hard-line Hindus have been demanding that India ban beef sales — a key industry for many within India’s poor, minority Muslim community. In many Indian states, the slaughtering of cows and selling of beef are either restricted or banned.
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For Hindus, cows are worshipped as sacred, and many of the animals are often seen wandering unchecked around big-city neighborhoods and on highways during rush hour.
Opposition lawmaker Shashi Tharoor said in a Twitter message that the “horrific killing shows this meat bigotry has gone out of control,” and that Indians should be “free to eat what they want.”
Tensions had been building in the village, where nearly 40 percent of the 1,500 residents are Muslim, after some Hindus complained that their cows and buffaloes were going missing, Singh said. On Wednesday, police were patrolling the village, where most residents were sitting quietly outside their homes.
When police arrested the suspects on Tuesday, a group of protesters attacked the officers and their vehicles, forcing police to open fire, according to local newspapers including The Indian Express. One 20-year-old man was reportedly injured, the paper said, without elaborating.
The eight suspects in custody were charged with murder and rioting, Singh said. Police are searching for two more suspects in the area.
Akhlaq’s 46-year-old brother, Jan Mohammad Saifi, said the family was baffled by the attack.
“My brother was singled out. Why were we targeted? We don’t eat beef,” he said, blaming a local hard-line Hindu organization for inciting the violence. “They announced our family had slaughtered a cow in the village, and that provoked people to attack our home.”
Akhlaq’s daughter, Sajida, said the family had mutton in the refrigerator, and not beef, according to The Indian Express. Police said they have sent samples of meat taken from Akhlaq’s home to a laboratory to determine whether the meat is from a goat or a cow.
The attack occurred just days after the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, when Muslim families in India traditionally slaughter a goat, though in other countries cows and camels are also offered as sacrifices.
Uttar Pradesh has ordered an investigation into the incident, state official Alok Ranjan said.
Banerjee reported from Lucknow, India.