Four suspected cattle smugglers were killed when their SUV crashed into a roadside temple near Uttarakhand’s industrial town of Rudrapur early on Monday.
Police said five people were carrying the carcass of a cow and an ox in a Scorpio to Rampur in Uttar Pradesh when the driver lost control of the vehicle in Dineshpur near Rudrapur, 250km from New Delhi. Four of them, all natives of Rampur, were killed on the spot.
The accident triggered communal tension in the area after rumours that they were killed by cow vigilantes. People from nearby areas poured into Rudrapur, where the bodies were brought for autopsy.
Police suspect the gang used to visit Rudrapur and target stray cattle at night in isolated areas.
The district administration sent additional forces to pre-empt any flare-up in the communally sensitive area. “A company of the provincial armed constabulary was immediately rushed to the spot. The situation is under control,” additional superintendent of police Pankaj Bhatt said.
“We have taken the statement of one of the survivors. He said it was a road accident and there is nothing communal about it.”
The district bordering Uttar Pradesh recorded a similar incident a couple of months ago when suspected cattle smugglers hit a policeman who was trying to stop their vehicle.
Police stepped up vigil on Monday to stop the spread of rumours, fuelled by cow vigilantes stepping up attacks across the country on cattle traders to enforce a ban on beef.
Eating beef is not illegal in Uttar Pradesh, although the slaughter of cows is banned. But Uttarakhand has a beef ban in place since 2007.
There is no central law on slaughter of cows, considered sacred in Hinduism, but it has historically been banned in most states although rarely enforced. However, the BJP-led government at the Centre provided a renewed thrust to protect cows as it moved to fulfill a poll promise made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.