A mob killed a 50-year-old Muslim man and severely wounded his 22-year-old son in a northern Indian village over allegations they had eaten beef, which is anathema to conservative Hindus, police said Wednesday.
Mohammad Akhlaq and his son, Danish, were dragged out of their house and beaten with bricks Monday night, family members said. Rumors that they had eaten and were storing cow meat were reportedly spread at a Hindu temple near their village of Dadri, about 30 miles outside the capital, New Delhi.
Police said they had arrested six suspects and were searching for at least four others. Danish Akhlaq was reportedly battling for his life at a hospital with injuries to his head and chest.
Authorities said they had found meat near Akhlaq's house and sent it for testing to determine whether it was beef. Beef consumption is illegal in the populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which like most Indian states also bans the slaughter of cows, an animal that India's Hindu majority regards as sacred.
Akhlaq's daughter, Sajida, told reporters that the meat in question was mutton.
"If the results prove that it was not beef, will they bring back my dead father?" said Sajida, 18, according to the Indian Express.
She also said the mob "tried to molest me and hit my grandmother on her face."
Religious affront often erupts into mob violence in India, where conservative Hindu groups have occasionally gone on the attack over the alleged slaughter or consumption of beef. In 2008, Hindu hard-liners stripped and beat up three people they believed had killed a cow in the southern state of Karnataka.
The subject has become more sensitive over the last year, with a conservative Hindu government in power in New Delhi and a growing number of states imposing stronger protections for cows and bullocks. The legislation has rankled minority Muslims, who eat beef and are at the center of the trade in cow and bull meat.
This month, a court in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, which has a large Muslim population, outlawed the sale of beef, prompting large protests that led authorities to temporarily bar Internet service.
In Dadri, after a cow went missing about two weeks earlier, Akhlaq, a farm worker, was reportedly seen being chased by dogs while carrying a plastic bag. Some locals deduced that the bag must have contained beef, police officials said.
"Cow skin was found near his house and it all began from there," Anurag Singh, a police commander in Dadri, told The Times. "People came to the conclusion it belonged to Akhlaq."
Akhlaq's family had reportedly lived in the area for generations, and officials said there was no history of communal strife.
Following the arrests of the suspects, demonstrators on Tuesday damaged some vehicles and police responded with force, resulting in at least one injury, according to reports. Authorities said Wednesday morning that the situation in the area was calm.
"Muslim groups cooperated with us. Villagers helped us arrest the accused," Singh said. "Everybody is appalled at what happened."
Parth M.N. is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Shashank Bengali contributed to this report from Bangalore, India.