Two people, including a police officer, have been killed in northern India during violent protests by villagers over suspicions of cow slaughter, officials said.
Police said a crowd of about 400 people gathered after hearing about the carcasses of animals, including a cow, reportedly being found on a farm on Monday morning.
Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and a 20-year-old man died after clashes erupted in a village in Uttar Pradesh state’s Bulandshahr district.
The officer died of injuries he suffered as a result of stones thrown by protesters while the resident was shot dead, senior police official Anand Kumar said in a televised news conference.
“After the villagers found a dead cow, they took to the streets. They blocked a road with a tractor and pelted stones,” he said.
India’s Hindu majority regards cows as holy and their slaughter is banned in several Indian states.
“We sent police teams to control the crowd after we heard protesters pelted stones and some even opened fire,” district official Anuj Kumar Jha told DPA news agency by phone.
“It is not clear this was firing from the crowd or the police,” he said, adding the protests subsided by early evening.
Local news channel NDTV reported the protests erupted after the carcasses of 25 cows were found.
Hindu vigilantes often roam the roads in northern India to protect cows, frequently resulting in assaults against India’s Muslim population – some 14 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion people.
Thirty-nine people have been killed in cow-related violence in India since 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, according to data portal IndiaSpend.
Modi has condemned the attacks and promised tough action against the perpetrators, but opposition leaders accuse the government of indirectly supporting the so-called Hindu cow vigilantes.
In July, India’s Supreme Court requested that the government enact new legislation to end an increase in mob violence and lynchings that have reportedly killed more than two dozen people accused of cattle theft, eating beef, child kidnapping and other crimes in the country this year.