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2 kids burned alive, 4 held – Clashes erupt over beef killing

Relatives of victims of an arson assault on a family home mourn following the attack in Faridabad on Oct 20. (Inset): Men look through a window into the burnt remains of a room. (AFP)
Relatives of victims of an arson assault on a family home mourn following the attack in Faridabad on Oct 20. (Inset): Men look through a window into the burnt remains of a room. (AFP)

BALLABHGARH, India, Oct 21, (RTRS): Police in northern India have arrested four men over allegations that they burnt alive two low-caste children, an official said on Wednesday, a case that triggered a street protest and drew condemnation from an opposition leader. Authorities ruled out caste violence as a motive for the crime but India has a long history of such incidents, and the attack will feed concerns over rising intolerance after the rumourfuelled killing of a Muslim man by a Hindu mob recently.

On Wednesday, two men carried the bodies of the dead children wrapped in white shrouds during a protest by about 1,000 people who blocked a major highway to the northern city of Agra, home to the Taj Mahal monument, and argued with police. Police in the northern state of Haryana said a group of men killed the children, a girl of 8 months and her two-year-old brother, by setting alight gasoline poured through the windows of their home in Ballabhgarh district, about 50 km (31 miles) from the capital, New Delhi.

The parents, who hail from the bottom rungs of India’s millennia-old social hierarchy rooted in the Hindu religion, were also injured in the attack, a state police official said. The incident was a family feud and not related to caste violence, however, said Jawahar Yadav, an official from the office of Harayana’s chief minister. “This is a fight among families, not about castes. It is an unfortunate incident,” Yadav told television channel CNN-IBN. The family has alleged it was attacked by men belonging to a higher caste, in revenge for separate killings a year ago, the state police officer said, asking not to be named because he was not authorised to discuss the case with the media.

Family members could not immediately be reached for comment. Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh has asked the state government for a report on the incident. Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress party, visited the district and criticised federal and state officials for not making better efforts to protect poor people. Caste-related violence has gripped India for decades. In August, clashes erupted in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s western home state of Gujarat after police arrested a young leader of the influential Patel clan who organised a rally to demand more government jobs for his community. Last month, a village council denied allegations that it ordered two young sisters to be raped because their brother eloped with a higher caste woman. The disavowal followed an international outcry triggered by the purported ruling.

At least two dozen people have been injured in clashes with police after protests erupted in Indian Kashmir over the killing of a Muslim man by Hindus campaigning against eating beef. The clashes in Kulgam and Anantnag districts broke out on Sunday after a trucker was attacked in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region of Kashmir by a crowd believing him to be involved in transporting cows, police said. Protesters also pelted police with stones, police said, without specifying who had been injured since Monday. Protesters have blocked the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, the only road link to the Kashmir valley.

Schools and offices remained shut in the valley following a strike called by separatist leaders and traders in protest at the murder. “We imposed restrictions in Anantnag today as a precautionary measure after there were clashes soon after the death of truck conductor Zahid Ahmad,” said SJM Gillani, head of the state police, said on Tuesday, referring to curbs on the movement of traffic and people. Tempers had already been running high in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, after members of a little known Hindu group blackened the face of a state legislator with ink for throwing a party where he served beef. Cows are considered holy by many, but not all, Hindus, who form a majority of India’s 1.2 billion population. Beef is eaten by Muslims and Christians, as well as many lower-caste Hindus.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has long advocated a ban on killing of cows, but the constitution guarantees equal rights to minority Muslims and Christians, and Modi has called for religious harmony. Nonetheless, the government is struggling to rein in hardline Hindu groups in parts of the country.

Hindu activists have stepped up their campaign in recent weeks on issues ranging from a ban on slaughtering cows to cricket matches with Pakistan, saying their rival neighbour must first stop Islamist groups operating from its soil. Police in the southern city of Bengaluru ordered an inquiry after an Australian man complained in a Facebook post that he had been harassed by a mob and forced to write an apology by police for sporting a tattoo of a Hindu goddess on his leg. Modi’s critics say there is a climate of intolerance and that his party is pushing the agenda of the Hindu majority. President Pranab Mukherjee said tolerance was the essence of India’s civilisation. “Humanism and pluralism should not be abandoned under any circumstance,” he said in remarks widely interpreted as a signal to the Modi administration to crack down on fringe groups. The latest trouble began when a Hindu mob lynched a Muslim man and beat up his son near the Indian capital, saying they had stored beef in their fridge.

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