Indian PM Narendra Modi criticises attacks on Dalits

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Image caption Mr Modi has asked state governments to take action against "fake" cow protection groups

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has criticised recent attacks against India's low-caste Dalit community.

Mr Modi said on Sunday that Dalits have "suffered for centuries" and they "shouldn't suffer anymore".

Four Dalit men, believed to be tannery workers, were publicly flogged last month in western Gujarat state for skinning a dead cow.

Many Hindus consider cows sacred and the slaughter of the animal is banned in several states.

'Attack me, not Dalits'

Speaking in Hyderabad, Mr Modi said: "What is the reason we torture our Dalit brothers? What right do you have? The section which has suffered for centuries, will you force them to suffer more?"

"If you have a problem, if you feel like attacking someone, attack me, not my Dalit brothers."

This was his second statement in two days against such attacks.

On Saturday, he asked state governments to take action against "anti-social elements who masquerade as cow protectors to save themselves".

Anger among Dalits has been mounting since the four men from their community were stripped and beaten in public by self-styled cow vigilantes last month.

The vigilantes had accused the men of harming cattle, but the victims insisted they were only taking a cow's carcass for skinning, as was their tradition.

Mr Modi had been criticised by Dalit groups and opposition parties for saying nothing about the attack until now.

There have been several other attacks on men and women across India, who have been accused of eating or smuggling beef.

Two Muslim women were beaten up last month by vigilantes over accusations that they had been carrying beef.

Last year, a Muslim man, Mohammed Akhlaq, was lynched by a mob that attacked his house over allegations that his family had been storing and consuming beef.

The majority of India's estimated 1.2 billion population is Hindu. However the country is also home to large Muslim, Christian and Buddhist minorities.

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