Mokati Elisha and Mokati Venkateshwar Rao from India’s lowest Dalit caste were tied to a tree and beaten up on Monday by a mob of around 50 men when they were skinning a dead cow in a village in Andhra Pradesh state.
“When a bunch of villagers saw Elisha and Venkateshwar skinning a cow, they assumed that they had slaughtered a live animal,” local deputy superintendent of police Lanka Ankaiah told AFP.
“In the spur of the moment, villagers got carried away by emotions and they beat up Elisha and Venkateshwar,” he said, adding police had detained seven people so far.
Cows are considered sacred by Hindus and killing them is banned in most Indian states, but the cousins said they were hired to skin the animal after it died of electrocution.
Formerly known as “untouchables,” Dalits are commonly tasked with removing the corpses of dead cows from streets, where the animals often roam freely.
The latest attack comes days after Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged a halt to attacks on Dalits, who lie at the bottom of India’s deeply entrenched social hierarchy.
Anger has mounted among the Dalit community and violent protests have erupted over the public flogging of four villagers by cow-protection vigilantes late last month.
Footage showed the four half-naked Dalit men tied to a car as the activists took turns to thrash them with belts and batons at a crowded marketplace.
After Monday’s attack, police said both cousins were undergoing treatment at a nearby hospital, with Rao having lost his hearing in one ear.
Elisha’s son, Chanti Babu, said his father and uncle were covered in bruises by the time their families were able to rescue them.
“We got calls that they have been tied to a tree and were being beaten up. By the time we reached there, they had bruises already,” Babu told AFP.
“Stones were pelted and sticks were used to beat them up for a crime they didn’t commit.”