NEW DELHI – Government investigators said Wednesday the mob killing of a Muslim man over rumors he slaughtered a cow was premeditated, and not a spontaneous act stemming from heightened emotion and religious devotion as many Hindu nationalist politicians have claimed.
The killing of Mohammed Akhlaq in north India last month has sparked furious debate about religious tolerance within India and what role Indian politicians play in defusing or exacerbating communal tension.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticized for not saying enough, or not saying it quickly enough. Two weeks after the attack, he called it "sad and undesirable" but questioned why the central government should be expected to weigh in rather than the state government. Senior officials from his Bharatiya Janata Party described the attacking mob as "innocents" or the attack as an "accident" that was either understandable or justified.
Hindus consider cows to be sacred, and for many, eating beef is taboo.
The debate — highlighted by Indian media headlines about similar attacks and editorials on religious intolerance — has forced the nation into a period of soul-searching that many have said is needed to reaffirm India's secular identity.
Amid the uproar, the National Commission for Minorities sent three investigators to Bisada village, on the outskirts of Delhi, to investigate the attack.
The team concluded in its report that the mob violence against Akhlaq and his family — his son was badly beaten — had been planned and a Hindu temple was used "to exhort people of one community to attack a hapless family."
Nothing provoked attack, other than the temple's announcement that beef had been found at Akhlaq's house, commission member Farida Abdullah Khan said.
"He had no idea, but enough people were there to attack the family and kill one man and grievously injure his son," Khan said. The fact that so many people amassed within minutes "at a time when most villagers claimed they were asleep, seems to point to some premeditated planning," the report said.
Laboratory tests later showed the meat in Akhlaq's refrigerator was goat, but that news made little impact.
The commission's report, which is separate from an ongoing investigation by police, gives fuel to those who allege that Hindu hard-liners, encouraged by having a Hindu nationalist party government, are using religious sentiment to whip up anger against India's minorities. Muslims are the largest minority at 13 percent.
President Pranab Mukherjee has repeatedly appealed for tolerance. "May compassion, love and brotherhood prevail over all forces of obscurantism and evil that seek to divide us," he said Tuesday.
Hindus make up more than 80 percent of India's 1.25-billion population, and many have reveled in Modi's championing Hindu culture through measures like hosting the first international yoga day. Many Indian states banned cow slaughter long ago and hard-liners want a national ban.
The issue has sparked violent protests in the mostly Muslim region of Kashmir after a Hindu mob fatally set a teenager on fire last week over rumors he slaughtered cows. Another attack, near the Himalayan town of Shimla, saw a mob beat a man to death and injure four others over rumors that they were smuggling cows.
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