NEW DELHI – Two Muslim men – suspected of stealing cattle – were killed by the locals, police said Monday, the latest such attack over the animal Hindus consider sacred.

Police in the northeastern state of Assam said they had registered a murder case over the deaths of Abu Hanifa and Riyazuddin Ali who were beaten with sticks on Sunday. Two suspects have been detained for questioning.

“They were chased and beaten with sticks by villagers who said the two boys were trying to steal cows from their grazing field,” Debaraj Upadhyay, Nagaon’s top cop, told AFP by telephone. “By the time we took them to the hospital at night they had succumbed to their injuries,” he added.

Some television pictures showed the two victims with their hands tied.

Religious persecution over meat

At least 11 Muslim men have been killed in similar incidents across the country by Hindu mobs on suspicion of eating beef or smuggling cows in the past two years.

In 2015, a Muslim man was lynched by his neighbours near New Delhi over rumours he had slaughtered a cow. Police later said the meat was mutton.

Last month a hotel manager was beaten by a mob and his restaurant sealed in Jaipur after Hindu vigilantes accused him of serving beef.

Modi appointed Yogi Adityanath, a popular leader known for his fiery Hindu rhetoric, to head the country’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh, which is also home to much of the country’s Muslim-dominated meat industry.

Shortly after being sworn in, Adityanath launched a crackdown on abattoirs, grinding much of the industry to a halt. Several meat shops have been torched, closed down with force and meat – that was supposed to be supplied – was burnt by the cow vigilantes.

Riding a strong anti-meat sentiment, the BJP had promised in its manifesto to shut all mechanised slaughterhouses immediately after forming a government.

Last month, the state of Gujarat also increased the punishment for cow slaughter from seven years to life imprisonment.

Under the stiffened penalties, anyone caught transporting cows for slaughter could also face up to 10 years in jail.