Indian trucker was killed over rumor that he was carrying beef

Some 2,000 people took to the streets Monday in an Indian-controlled area of Kashmir to protest the killing of a teenage Muslim truck driver who was burned to death in the cab of his truck, apparently because he was wrongly suspected of transporting beef.

It was the third instance in recent weeks in which a Muslim man has been killed over beef. Cows are considered sacred by Hindus.

Zahid Rasool Bhat, 18, the truck driver who died Sunday of burns, was buried Monday in his village, Botengo, in South Kashmir. Hindu militants are suspected of carrying out the attack, in which gasoline bombs were reportedly thrown into his vehicle on Oct. 9. The incident was caught on security cameras.

Bhat was reportedly carrying coal in his truck, not beef.

Protesters poured into the streets following his funeral, expressing grief and anger over his killing. “The protestors chanted anti-India and pro-freedom slogans,” said Shujaat Bukhari, editor of Rising Kashmir, an independent newspaper in the state.

The protests ultimately gave way to violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces. Police fired tear- and pepper-gas shells to subdue the stone-throwing protesters.

The chief minister of the state, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, condemned the killing and announced that the government would give Bhat’s family compensation of about $7,700, along with a government job.

Five people were arrested for murder, rioting, conspiracy and explosives charges, according to Waheed-ur-Rahman, spokesman of the state government. He said one had fled and was the target of a manhunt. He said the case would be held in a “fast-track” court designed to speed up India’s typically slow judicial process.

In response to concerns over religious tensions, the government of Jammu and Kashmir state declared a curfew in several parts of south Kashmir, and the Srinagar-Jammu national highway was being patrolled by a heavy police presence as well as paramilitary forces. The police have also stopped the entry of trucks into Kashmir as a precautionary measure.

“The situation is very intense at the moment,” said Bukhari. “Tempers are palpably running high. People have reacted strongly to the murder. We can only hope the situation does not lead to serious riots.”

Also Monday, Hindu militants threw ink on a Muslim lawmaker in New Delhi, where he was holding a news conference to protest Zahid's death. "India will not tolerate any disrespect to cows!" the assailants reportedly shouted.

The lawmaker, Abdul Rashid Sheikh, had drawn the ire of Hindu extremists earlier this month for hosting a party at which beef was served.

In previous recent cases, a mob of suspected members of the radical Hindu group Bajrang Dal killed a Muslim man for allegedly smuggling cattle from India's Himachal Pradesh last week. Three weeks earlier, a man in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh was lynched by a mob over apparently false rumors that he had been eating beef.

Parth M.N. is a special correspondent

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