Indian police said Thursday they have arrested three suspects in the murder of a 60-year-old Muslim man lynched in apparent revenge after a fellow Muslim eloped with a local Hindu woman.
Authorities said they were still searching for the ringleaders of a six-strong Hindu gang that beat Ghulam Mohammad to death on Tuesday in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
The motive for the attack is not clear, but police said the men may have suspected Mohammad of helping the young couple, who were from the same village in Bulandshahr district, to elope.
Uttar Pradesh has a significant Muslim minority and communal tensions have been running high since the appointment in March of the Hindu nationalist priest Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of the state.
Bulandshahr district police chief Jagdish Sharma told AFP Mohammad was “brutally beaten and died on the spot. The main accused and two others are on the run,” he said.
Sharma said the victim’s family had reported threats to local Muslims from members of Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), a hardline group founded by Adityanath, since the controversial marriage.
The young couple, who are in their 20s, were taken into police custody after the woman’s family filed a complaint alleging their daughter had been kidnapped.
Police said they left their home village on April 27 and went on the run, but returned once they ran out of money. It was unclear whether they actually married.
Critics say the appointment of Adityanath to run India’s most populous and communally sensitive state has emboldened Hindu hardliners to target Muslims, who make up around 20 percent of the population.
Last month members of his HYV barged into a house in neighbouring Meerut district and beat up a Muslim man who was dating a Hindu woman.
Adityanath has long railed against interfaith marriages and threatened reprisals over such relationships.
The issue has become a flashpoint for nationalists in recent years, with Hindu extremists raising fears of “love jihad” — claims that Muslim boys were attempting to seduce and elope with Hindu girls across the country to convert them.