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India investigates police ‘tea break’ in lynching case

AHMEDABAD: Indian activists take part in a protest against mob lynchings in India. — AFP

NEW DELHI: Indian police yesterday began an inquiry into officers alleged to have taken a tea break instead of rushing a critically injured lynching victim to hospital. Akbar Khan, 28, succumbed to his injuries after being attacked by a gang of Hindu cow vigilantes in the district of Alwar in Rajasthan state on Friday.

Cows are considered sacred in Hindu-majority India where squads of vigilantes often roam highways inspecting livestock trucks. The murder stoked tension in the area amid media reports police stopped to have a tea break and wasted crucial time instead of taking Khan to hospital. Police also allegedly cared for the cows first, transporting them to a bovine shelter much farther away.

“Doubts have been cast on the initial response of the local police,” state police chief OP Galhotra said in a written order seen by AFP yesterday. “A team has been constituted to look into the circumstances leading to the alleged delay and connected issues.” India’s right-wing government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of turning a blind eye to a rising number of vigilante attacks on minority Muslims in the name of cow protection.

Rights groups say Hindu mobs have been emboldened under the party, which stormed to power in 2014. The government yesterday sought a report from state authorities on the latest lynching and “steps taken to restore peace” in the area. Two suspects have been arrested in the case so far. Slaughtering cows is illegal in many Indian states and some also require a licence for transporting them across state borders.

In two prominent cases last year, a dairy farmer was killed on a roadside for transporting cows and a Muslim teenager accused of carrying beef was stabbed to death on a crowded train. India has also been rocked by a separate spate of lynchings, with 23 people killed in the last two months after being accused of of child kidnapping in viral messages circulated wildly on WhatsApp.

Another day, another lynching
A mob lynched a woman in India after rumors circulated on WhatsApp about child kidnappers, police said yesterday, days after the messaging firm said it was curbing the forwarding of messages. More than 20 people have been killed in similar incidents in the past two months, leaving both the Indian authorities and Facebook-owned WhatsApp scrambling to find a solution in its biggest market.

Police said nine people have been arrested and more are being sought after they found the middle-aged woman’s mutilated body near a forest area in the Singrauli district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh on Sunday.

The accused men told police they caught hold of the woman late Saturday after finding her moving suspiciously and seeing a flurry of WhatsApp messages about gangs of child kidnappers in the area, local police chief Riyaz Iqbal said. “We are trying to identify the victim and have circulated her picture to all the police stations,” Singrauli police chief Riyaz Iqbal told AFP.

Last Thursday the Indian government threatened WhatsApp with legal action, saying the “medium” for spreading malicious rumours “cannot evade responsibility and accountability”. WhatsApp said the next day it would test limiting the ability of its more than 225 million Indian users to forward messages and remove the “quick forward button” next to media messages.

It had already announced new features to help users identify messages that have been forwarded and bought full-page adverts in Indian newspapers with tips on how to spot misinformation. It has however stopped short of acceding to Indian government demands to enable the authorities to trace messages, saying its service would stay “end-to-end encrypted”. Lynchings are nothing new in India, but the spread of smartphones to even the most remote corners has enabled rumours to be shared at lightning speed and in huge volumes. – AFP

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