Last Thursday, a mob nearly killed two Muslims in Uttar Pradesh’s Karhal town.
The two men, 55-year-old Mohammad Shafiq and 27-year-old Mohammad Kalam, were skinning a cow when they were accused of slaughtering the animal. Very rapidly, a mob of 1,000-1,500 people, according to police estimates, converged on the spot, a stretch of open land next to a small irrigation canal just beyond a predominantly Hindu basti.
Shafiq and Kalam, who work as butchers, were stripped and beaten. A police party that attempted to control the crowd was roughed up as well. Three of its vehicles – a jeep, a Bolero and a motorcycle – were burnt. After the police succeeded in rescuing Shafiq and Kalam, the mob loaded the cow onto a cart and paraded it through Karhal.
Along the way, it looted the vegetable market, ransacked and torched shops belonging to Muslims, and burnt an effigy of Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan.
As such, the event raised several questions. Why would a hitherto peaceful town see such violence? Why were people claiming the cow — certifiably dead when it was wheeled away — had been killed? Why did all this happen on a day the local police station was bound to be deserted?
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