India police arrest three over cow vigilante murder

Police say they have arrested three people for murder over the death of a Muslim man attacked while transporting cows in northern India, where vigilantes patrol the streets to protect the animal Hindus consider sacred

Police said Thursday they have arrested three people for murder over the death of a Muslim man attacked while transporting cows in India, in the latest incidence of violence over the animal Hindus revere.

Pehlu Khan, a 55-year-old farmer, died in hospital on Monday after around 200 vigilantes attacked trucks carrying cattle on a highway in Alwar in the western state of Rajasthan.

Cow slaughter is illegal in many Indian states, and vigilante squads that roam highways checking livestock trucks for animals being transported across state borders have proliferated since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.

Police are still trying to identify most of the 200-strong mob who attacked Khan and injured six others as they transported dozens of cows into a neighbouring state.

Alwar police chief Rahul Prakash said they arrested three people late Wednesday after examining video footage shot by onlookers and broadcast by the media.

"We saw the videos and identified at least five people who were at the spot. We called those five people to the police station and found that three of them were directly involved in the assault on the victims," Prakash told AFP.

Khan's son, who was with his father when the attack occurred on Saturday, said the mob flagged down their vehicles as they were returning home from a cattle fair.

"We told them we are returning from an animal fair, but they didn't listen to us," said Irshad Khan on the CNN News 18 channel.

"They started beating us with sticks, hockey sticks and belts. They let go one of the drivers because he was a Hindu, and kept saying, 'beat these Muslims'."

Prakash said police had also arrested 11 survivors of the attack, charging them under various sections of Rajasthan's cow protection law.

Rajasthan is among the states that ban cow slaughter, and authorities also require anyone transporting the animals across state borders to have a licence.

The state's BJP home minister Gulab Chand Kataria has come in for criticism for saying that both sides were to blame for the incident.

- Lynch mobs -

Khan's death sparked outrage Thursday in India's upper house of parliament, where opposition lawmakers shouted slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP government.

Rahul Gandhi, vice president of the opposition Congress party, said there had been a "shocking" breakdown of law and order.

"When government abdicates responsibility and allows lynch mobs to rule, tragedies of immense proportion follow," he tweeted.

At least 10 Muslim men have been killed in similar incidents across the country by Hindu mobs on suspicion of eating beef or smuggling cows in the last two years.

In 2015 a Muslim man was lynched by his neighbours over rumours that he had slaughtered a cow. Police later said the meat was mutton.

Last month a hotel manager was beaten in Rajasthan after Hindu vigilantes accused him of serving beef.

Millions from India's huge minority populations -- including Muslims, Christians and lower-caste Hindus -- eat beef.

India is also the world's largest exporter of beef, although most of the meat comes from buffalo, which are not considered sacred.

But right-wing Hindu groups have long demanded a complete ban on the slaughter of all cattle, citing religious scripture.