In this predominantly Hindu but secular nation, eating beef has always been tricky. Many Hindus regard the cow as holy and eating beef as a sin. In restaurants, if you order beef, you are most likely to be served buffalo meat.
But that is not to say that nobody eats beef in India. Some high-end restaurants frequented by foreigners serve beef. A few small eateries also serve beef to trusted customers, but on the sly. And in some provinces in the northeast, consuming beef is not so taboo.
But the horrific killing of Mohammad Akhlaq last Monday by a mob of about 200 Hindus has polarized Indians.
While some are calling for a nationwide beef ban, others are boldly and publicly declaring that they love beef.
A retired judge tweeted that he has eaten beef many times. Over the weekend, others posted recipes and pictures of beef curry and other beef dishes on Facebook and Twitter. Some even tweeted with the hashtag #JeSuisAkhlaq.
Although this is not the first time that eating beef has led to a killing in India, writer Shekhar Gupta called Akhlaq's lynching “a chilling turning point in our politics.”
“It marks the rise of Hindu supremacist mob militancy,” Gupta wrote, and something the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party “won’t unequivocally condemn or disown.” He urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and take a cue from President Obama's "cool clock, Ahmed" comment, made amid outrage over the arrest of a Texas ninth-grader after a digital clock built by him was mistaken for a bomb.
A blogger wrote an open letter to Modi urging him to speak up against the killing. "Don't you think that people deserve to be reassured that India is a safe secular country where minorities are not lynched periodically?" Sonia Chopra wrote. Modi, a vegetarian, had raised the issue of cow protection during his election campaign last year and said cows are being slaughtered to boost India’s meat exports.
But the final word belonged to the son of Akhlaq, Mohammad Sartaj, who is a corporal in the Indian air force. On Sunday, Sartaj was asked what he would like to say to India’s politicians. “These people must have read the couplet: 'India is best place in the world, religion does not teach us to hate each other,'" Sartaj said to the TV news channel NDTV 24x7, referring to a popular Urdu poem from 1904. “If we follow that, it will not be a small feat.”
Muslims fear rising tide of Hindu nationalism in Modi’s India
Why a rising star of Muslim politics in India stirs hope and fear
A mob in India just dragged a man from his home and beat him to death — for eating beef