Indian soldier arrested over murder of policeman sent to investigate killing of sacred cow

An Indian soldier was arrested for murdering a policeman during a riot over the slaughtering of sacred cows, in a case that has shone a light on mob rule and the increasingly zealous protection of cattle.

The police inspector was killed when a mob of Hindu extremists went on the rampage in the state of Uttar Pradesh, after they claimed to have discovered the carcasses of several cows in a village forest.

Muslims who had gathered nearby for a religious congregation were blamed for killing the cows, which are sacred to Hindus.

Police were sent to quell unrest by Hindu activists, but Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh was killed, allegedly by a soldier from Kashmir.

Jitendra Malik, alias Jeetu Fauji, was detained by his own unit, the 22 Rashtriya Rifles, in the town of Sopore in Kashmir, where he was serving. A police special investigation team of Uttar Pradesh Police then took him into custody.

The case has become increasingly politicised, prompting bizarre conspiracy theories.

The ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party claimed the episode was a “false flag” attack by opposition Congress Party acolytes to bring blame on the BJP.

Congress officials claimed the riot was a smokescreen to cover attacks against Muslims, and that Insp Singh had been assassinated as he had clashed with Hindu extremists in the past.

So far nine people have been arrested, including Mr Fauji, and two police officers suspended after it appeared the focus of the investigation was not on the murder of a police officer, but trying to catch the “cow killers”.

The BJP chief minister of UP met the family of the murdered police officer and told reporters “what happened in Bulandshahr is an accident”.

After the dead cattle were initially found, Hindu activists, many from political parties, formed a mob for retribution, claiming the cows were slaughtered for beef, eaten at the gathering of Muslims.

Insp Singh and his team had gone to the village of Bulandshahr to tackle the mob when they came under attack by more than 200 rioters. 

In graphic videos, shown repeatedly on TV news channels and shared on social media, a wild mob is seen chasing the policemen and shouting: "Maaro (hit him), take his gun!" Insp Singh was assaulted with a sharp weapon and then shot in the head.

Mr Fauji was in his hometown of Bulandshahr on a 15-day leave when the mob violence took place, and can be seen in videos shared from that day.

The slaughtering of cows is banned in most Indian states as the country’s Hindu majority regards cows as holy.

Hindu "cow vigilantes" have been known to roam the roads in northern India to protect cows, frequently resulting in assaults against India’s Muslim population – some 14 per cent of the country’s 1.3 billion people.

In recent years, there have been a string of deadly attacks on Muslims over the death of cattle and beef consumption.

At least 39 people have been killed since 2014 when the BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, came to power.