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Human rights group calls for ‘cow protectors’ in India to be prosecuted over vigilante attacks

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A human rights group has expressed concern over brutal attacks in India by self-appointed “cow protectors” against Muslims and lower castes over rumours that they sold, bought or killed cows for beef. Human Rights Watch said Indian authorities should promptly investigate the attacks and prosecute those responsible or face allegations of complicity.

Many critics allege the vigilantes are linked to extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The group said: “The police, too often, have filed complaints against the assault victims, their relatives, and associates under laws banning cow slaughter.”

Hindus, who form 80% of India’s 1.3 billion population, consider cows to be sacred and for many eating beef is taboo. In many Indian states, the slaughtering of cows and selling of beef is either restricted or banned.

Human Rights Watch said that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014, at least 10 Muslims have been killed in mob attacks in seven separate incidents of mob violence related to allegations over cows.

Mr Modi has condemned the attacks. His party, which also runs various state governments, has promised swift action against the offenders, but the attacks continue. Vigilante groups have become active in small towns and cities across India. Lower castes usually carry out undesirable tasks such as skinning dead animals, and many work in the leather industry.

“Self-appointed ‘cow protectors’ driven by irresponsible populism are killing people and terrorizing minority communities,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

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