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Protests after murder by Indian cow vigilantes

NEW DELHI (UCAN): Christian and Muslim advocates joined together in New Delhi to protest violence against minorities five days after a mob of Hindus beat a Catholic man to death for suspected cow slaughter in India’s Jharkhand state.
Prakash Lakra and three others were attacked by a mob on April 10 on the suspicion that they had slaughtered a cow in Jhurmu village in the district of Gumla. Lakra died from his injuries hours after the attack, Church sources said.
About 100 protesters gathered in front of the Jharkhand Bhawan building in New Delhi on April 15, shouting slogans against the state government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
 “Such violence is nothing but a strategy to terrorise minorities and polarise the country in the name of religion for votes,” a Christian leader and protest organizer, A.C. Michael, said.
Speakers said violence in the name of protecting cows, which are revered in Hinduism, has increased ever since the BJP came to power in New Delhi. 
“We had never heard of people killing in the name of religion in our area. We tribals here respect each other irrespective of our faith. It is very unfortunate and shocking,” said Father Cyprian Kullu, vicar general of the Diocese of Gumla.
He explaind that Lakra and his friends did not slaughter a cow. An old ox had slipped in a pit and died, and villagers decided to take its skin to be used.
But some people from neighbouring Jairagi village, who were passing through Lakra’s village, saw the incident and reported it in their Hindu village as cow slaughter, the priest said.
“A group of people came back by evening and began beating the four involved. They also took them to a nearby police station, where Lakra’s condition deteriorated. He was rushed to a nearby hospital but was declared dead,” Father Kullu said.
The diocese suspects some people with vested interests instigated the murder and is calling for a thorough investigation, the priest said.
Senior police official, M.L. Meena, told media on April 13 that the attackers were armed with iron bars and sticks, and attacked the victims brutally.
Two men have been arrested for alleged murder and five more are on the run, Meena said.
“So far the investigation has shown the ox died naturally. We are doing a thorough probe,” he said.
Cow slaughter and the consumption of beef are illegal in Jharkhand and 19 other states in India, but the restricted slaughter of other bovines like water buffalo is allowed. Violators face up to 10 years in jail and or a fine of 10,000 rupees ($1,127) in Jharkhand. 
In 2017, the BJP government tried to ban cattle slaughter for trade nationwide, but the Supreme Court rejected the plan.
Cow vigilantism gained widespread attention when Mohammad Akhlaq, a Muslim farmer from Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, was lynched for allegedly possessing beef in his house in September 2015. However, laboratory tests proved the meat was not beef.
Since May 2015, at least 12 people have been killed in cow-related violence, while at least 25 have died in such incidents since 2010 with 21 of them being Muslims, according to a recent report by IndiaSpend, a data website.
At least 139 people were also injured in these attacks of which more than half were based on rumours, it said.
 “It is a matter of concern that this happened in a remote tribal village … because it is a new thing there and it proves that fanatics have landed even in the remote villages of the country,” Mukti Prakash Tirkey, editor of a weekly newspaper on tribal affairs published from New Delhi, said.
Mohamed Asim, a student who joined the New Delhi protest, said that “the present government treats Muslims, Christians, Dalits and tribal people as second-class citizens. Hence their supporters do not hesitate to attack them at any time.”

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