Protests in Indian Kashmir after trucker's death

PHOTO: AFP

SRINAGAR, India - Police imposed a curfew in Indian-administered Kashmir on Monday to quell angry protests against the murder of a truck worker who was attacked by extremists over rumours he had slaughtered cows.

The issue has become a flashpoint for religious tensions in Hindu-majority India.

Schools and businesses shut and universities cancelled exams as hundreds of police and paramilitary forces patrolled deserted streets of the mainly Muslim region, a day after 19-year-old Zahid Rasool Bhat died of injuries sustained in the October 9 attack.

News of Bhat's death on Sunday ignited anger in Indian Kashmir, where protesters threw rocks and clashed with government forces who fired tear gas canisters to disperse them.

"We have imposed restrictions on public movement in many areas to avoid loss of life," a senior police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Bhat had been in hospital since the truck in which he was travelling was firebombed by Hindu activists angered by reports that a ban on slaughtering cows was being flouted in the region.

Two dead cows had been discovered in a stream near the area where his truck was attacked, although there was no evidence he was involved. Forensic tests later showed the cows had died of poisoning.

His death comes at a time of heightened tensions over the consumption of beef in India after the lynching of a Muslim man wrongly accused of eating beef.

Cows are considered sacred by most Hindus in officially secular India, but millions of Muslims and other minorities view beef as a relatively cheap source of protein.

Lawmaker attacked

As tensions rose Kashmir lawmaker Sheikh Abdul Rashid was attacked with black ink during a press conference in New Delhi Monday by a group known as Hindu Sena (Hindu army).

Rashid, who opposes a ban on beef-eating, had been speaking on rising incidents of religious intolerance, according to news channel Times Now.

Earlier this month he was assaulted by lawmakers from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state's parliament for throwing a provocative "beef party".

India is the world's biggest exporter of beef, which includes buffalo as well as cow meat, an industry mainly run by Muslims.

But Modi's BJP wants a nationwide ban on the slaughter of cows, currently prohibited in some but not all states.

Several different groups had called for a shutdown in Kashmir on Monday in protest at the attack on truck worker Bhat, which also left a second man with severe burns.

There were fresh protests early on Monday as Bhat was buried in his native village of Botengoo in southern Kashmir.

The region has been tense since a court last month ordered the strict implementation of a longstanding but rarely implemented colonial-era law banning cow slaughter and the sale of beef in the state.

Another court has since set aside that order and recommended the state government review the law.

Police have arrested nine for the attack on the truck after they were identified from CCTV footage and they are being charged with murder, a government spokesman said Monday.

The chief minister of the state, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, strongly criticised the killings Monday, saying India could not allow "kangaroo courts".

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