DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And let's move now to a village in India where there was a deadly attack carried out, it appears to protect the country's sacred cow. Most states in India ban beef, respecting an animal that is central to India's dominant Hindu faith. But tension over beef is growing, and that has alarmed secular India. NPR's South Asia correspondent, Julie McCarthy, reports.
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JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: On a recent morning in the village of Bisahda, songbirds lace the air. Little barefoot boys march hand-in-hand in the dust, chatting like two old men. Donkeys drag overloaded carts of hay while a woman bathes a water buffalo...
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MCCARTHY: Eliciting grunts of satisfaction from the beast. It is a tranquil tableau of Indian village life. Now the rapid response force of the police is conspicuously deployed to keep the peace. It was shattered just over two weeks ago, when young men found dogs sniffing at what looked like meat one night. A rumor quickly spread with the help of social media that it was beef. Forensics later showed it was mutton. But a decades-old ban prohibits beef from being sold in this state of Uttar Pradesh. And within minutes, the home of Iklakh Saifi was surrounded. A Muslim accused of killing a cow, Saifi was beaten to death by a mob, allegedly Hindus. Eight accused are now in custody. On the condition there be no recording, nervous police permit us passage to the lynched man's home. Inside, Saifi's 75-year-old mother, Asgari Begum, sits with a black eye and bruised neck. It's Allah's mercy that I'm alive, she says. Overturned appliances testify to the rampage. We cried for help, but no one came, she sobs. They beat us with bricks, clubs and sticks. Her grandson, 22-year-old Danish Saifi, was rushed to this hospital with head injuries. His older brother, Sartaj, a technician with the Indian Air Force, says his family fears for their lives. And the Air Force has offered to move them.
SARTAJ SAIFI: (Speaking Hindi).
MCCARTHY: "Many religions live in India, and we don't want to hurt each other's sentiments. But when they are hurt, that cannot justify murder," he says. "It's easy to find a piece of meat in any Muslim home, especially after Eid. Spread rumors that it's beef, and inflame feelings that could engulf the whole country," the 27-year-old says. Today, save-the-cow vigilante groups waylay trucks in Delhi suspected of transporting beef. In India's only Muslim-dominated state of Kashmir, beef bans deepen animosity in a place already riven with tension. Poet Ashok Vajpeyi says Hindu nationalists are using bans, suspicion and hurt feelings to stoke intolerance in the name of tradition.
ASHOK VAJPEYI: There can't be a bigger insult to Indian tradition. The Indian tradition for millennia has been accommodated, open. It is a multireligious tradition, a multilingual tradition. And that plurality is now being under assault.
MCCARTHY: Vajpeyi leads a growing list of writers dismayed by the initial silence that emanated from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. When he finally chose to weigh in, Modi appealed for unity without ever specifically mentioning the brutal killing of the Muslim villager.
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PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: (Speaking Hindi).
MCCARTHY: "We should decide whether Hindus want to fight against Muslims or fight against poverty, and vice versa for Muslims," he says, "the country must stay together." For poet Vajpeyi, the fact it took Modi 10 days to comment on what some consider an inflection point for Indian religious harmony is hardly encouraging. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi.
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