Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned Wednesday the recent murder of a Muslim man who was allegedly beaten to death for eating beef. The country is predominantly Hindu, a religion that believes cows are a sacred animal. Clashes between the two groups have been growing in the nation, which has a large Muslim minority that runs the beef industry, clashes between the two groups have been growing in the nation.
The incident in question occurred in early October in Bishara village, where a Muslim majority and a large proportion of Hindu nationalist right-wingers both live about an hour's drive from Delhi, the nation's capital. Mohammed Akhlaq and his family were accused of having eaten beef, and a mob of Hindu villagers dragged Akhlaq, his mother and his son from their beds in the middle of the night and beat them with bricks. Akhlaq died, his mother sustained minor injuries, and his son is still in critical condition.
"The BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] has never supported such incidents," the prime minister told local reporters Wednesday, calling the incident "sad" and "unwelcome." Modi had previously campaigned as a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist. His election in May 2014 sparked controversy, giving legitimacy to many right-wing nationalists who, though not a part of Modi's party, said his election was a step in the right direction.
Debate over the consumption of beef in India has intensified following recent reports showing the Muslim minority, representing 14 percent of India's population, includes some of the poorest people in the country. Beef is the cheapest meat in the country, making it a staple in the diet of many Muslim families whose religion proscribes the consumption of pork. Muslims' per capita spending rate was significantly lower than that of Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, the Hindu Times reported in 2013.
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Controversial Indian writer Salman Rushdie joined in the debate Tuesday, criticizing the lack of freedom of speech and expression in the country, calling extreme supporters of the prime minister "Modi Toadies." A tweet posted to Rushdie's verified Twitter account seemed to sum up his stance on the matter: "I support no Indian political party and oppose all attacks on free speech. Liberty is my only party."