Villagers in northern India kill Muslim accused of smuggling cows: Police

DHARAMSALA, India - Villagers in northern India have killed a Muslim man for allegedly smuggling cattle, police said on Saturday, in violence critics say is fuelled by the Hindu nationalist government seeking a nationwide ban of cow slaughter and beef trade.

India is the world's largest exporter of beef and its fifth biggest consumer, but cow slaughter is forbidden in some regions, including the state of Himachal Pradesh, as many Hindus regard the animal as sacred.

A group of local villagers attacked the victim, known only as Noman, and four other men on Wednesday evening in Himachal Pradesh after seeing them transporting cattle in a truck, a senior police official said.

Noman was beaten to death, while the other four men, who survived the attack, were charged with animal smuggling and cow slaughter, the official said. "We have already started the lookout for the accused," said Soumya Sambasivan, the local police superintendent. "As it was a mob attack, so far we have registered the case for murder against unknown people." Two weeks ago a Muslim man died after being kicked and beaten by a group of Hindus over rumours he ate beef in the town of Dadri, 50 km (30 miles) from the capital, New Delhi.

Beef is widely eaten by Hindus in parts of the south, as well as by other groups including minority Muslims and Christians. Cow slaughter and beef trade is run mostly by Muslims.

Tougher measures to safeguard cows are often used as a rallying call by politicians seeking to win Hindu votes, sometimes leading to Hindu-Muslim riots.

Opponents have accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of looking to create religious tension in order to polarise voters in a crucial and tight election that began in the northern state of Bihar earlier this month.