NOIDA, India — More than a week after a mob beat a Muslim man to death in India following rumors that he had eaten beef, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the controversy in a speech Thursday, calling on his country to shun the politics of polarization.
Modi, 65, spoke days after the deadly beating of Mohammed Akhlaq roiled the nation and led to days of incendiary statements by politicians on both sides of the issue, protests on college campuses and scathing editorials in the country’s leading newspapers.
Cows are considered sacred to devotees of India’s majority religion, Hinduism, and their slaughter and in some cases consumption is banned in many states.
Akhlaq’s son Sartaj, a 27-year-old corporal in the Indian Air Force, spoke from a hospital in the capital suburbs where he was visiting his brother, Danish, 22, who was critically injured in the mob attack.
“I am going through the biggest crisis of my life. I am sort of numb to everything else,” the young officer said. “My only priority is my brother and his recovery. I do not want to get entangled in any politics.”
The beef controversy reached a fever pitch Thursday after a politician in the state assembly of Jammu and Kashmir was beaten by members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, allegedly because he held a beef party on the lawn of a politician’s hostel in Srinagar. A state lawmaker said that whoever “disrespects the mother cow” would have to face such treatment, according to local news reports.
Modi, in a fiery speech in the eastern state of Bihar, appealed to his countrymen to ignore such commentary.
“I want to tell you not to pay attention to such statements. We should all get together and march together; only then we can be what the world expects of us,” the prime minister said.
The mob beating was sparked by rumors that a cow carcass had been found in a village called Bisara, about an hour from the capital of New Delhi. Akhlaq, his wife and son were attacked at home the evening of Sept. 28. Both men were dragged into the street and beaten with bricks, authorities said. Akhlaq, 50, later died from his injuries.
The beating death sparked a social media backlash, with commenters posting pictures of recipes made with beef as gestures of support. A professor in Kerala is being investigated after she wrote a Facebook post sympathetic to a pro-beef student protest.
Meanwhile, Sartaj Mohammed, who was at his brother’s bedside after he was moved out of the intensive care unit, said his brother is eating and can recognize him and their uncle. .
“Time is a healer. We will recover and stand on our feet again,” Sartaj Mohammed said.
These days, he looks to his late father for inspiration, he said.
“My father was the ideal man for me. I looked up to him all through my life,” he said. “He knew when to be strict, when to be soft. But most of all, he knew how to remain calm in difficult situations. I used to marvel at that quality. I hope I can be that calm, too.”