Eight men have been arrested for violently ambushing a government convoy transporting cows in north-west India, police said Tuesday, the latest assault by vigilantes claiming to protect the sacred animal.
A mob of about 200 Hindu hardliners Sunday blocked the convoy of trucks in Rajasthan state as government officials escorted 80 cows and calves to a state-run breeding programme in India’s south.
They attacked the officials after accusing them of taking the cows to a slaughterhouse, local police chief Gagandeep Singla told a foreign agency.
“They stopped the trucks on the pretext of checking documents and then attacked them with sticks and damaged the trucks,” he said, adding the mob tried to set the vehicles ablaze.
More than 50 vigilantes have been identified and charged with assaulting public officials, he added. One of those targeted in the 30-minute attack sustained serious head injuries.
Hindus, the majority in India, consider cows sacred and killing the beasts is illegal in many states, with life sentences imposed in some jurisdictions.
The ambush in Rajasthan was just the latest by self-proclaimed cow protection squads ─ mobs of Hindu hardliners who attack anyone suspected of abusing the animals.
In April a mob beat a 55-year-old Muslim cattle farmer to death in Rajasthan after accusing him of cow smuggling. The man was transporting cows to a dairy farm.
Muslims dominate the meat industry and are often the targets of assaults.
Human Rights Watch has accused police of often filing complaints against victims and their families instead of the vigilantes, who roam highways near state borders largely with impunity.
Violence perpetrated in the name of protecting cows has surged since Prime Minister Narendra Modi led his right-wing Hindu party to power in 2014.
Critics accused the Bharatiya Janata Party ─ which promised during the election campaign to completely outlaw cow slaughter across India ─ of turning a blind eye to the activities of its hardline supporters.
Last month the Modi administration banned the sale and purchase of cattle from markets for slaughter, causing an outcry in states where cow meat is legally consumed.
At least a dozen Muslims have been killed by vigilantes since Modi was elected, drawing global condemnation from rights groups.