India

Eight held in India over calf slaughter

Cows are considered holy by India's majority Hindu population Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Cows are considered holy by India's majority Hindu population

Police in the southern state of Kerala have arrested eight men who publicly killed a calf to protest against a ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter.

The group, including three from the main opposition party, are accused of animal cruelty and unlawful assembly.

The federal government announced the ban last week, saying it would "stop unregulated animal trade".

But critics say the move is aimed at protecting cows, considered holy by India's majority Hindu population.

The men, who killed the calf on Saturday, said they wanted to represent people's anger against the federal government's decision.

The Congress party, the main opposition to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), opposes the ban, but it suspended the three members of its youth wing, saying the act was "thoughtless and barbaric".

The ban has sparked protests from a number of state governments. There are several states where beef is part of local cuisine and critics say the order will hurt farmers and major industries like food processing and leather.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the central government was "encroaching upon state matters" with its ban. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the order violated "the basic right of a person to freedom of choice regarding his food".

Many states, however, have actively started enforcing bans on cow slaughter since the Hindu nationalist BJP came to power in 2014.

The western state of Gujarat passed a law in March making the slaughter of cows punishable by life imprisonment. Vigilante groups who portray themselves as protectors of cows have also been active in several states.

These groups have even killed Muslim men they suspect of killing cows, including high-profile cases in April and May.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year criticised the vigilantes, saying such people made him "angry". However, this has not stopped attacks against cattle traders.

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