Beef-Eating Festival in India Turns into Clashes
A beef-eating festival at a university in southern India triggered clashes between rival students as Hindu activists fought with low-caste Dalit groups who had organized the event.
Police fired teargas on Sunday evening to break up the fighting, in which at least five people were injured and two vehicles were set ablaze at the Osmania University in the city of Hyderabad.
Hindus, the religious majority in India, regard cows as sacred and the animals are often used in temple ceremonies as well as allowed to wander at will through the country's busy towns and markets.
In the traditional Hindu caste system, Dalits (formerly known as 'untouchables') are considered the lowest of low castes, and some Dalit groups reject Hindu religious practices such as the ban on eating beef.
Beef biryani and other beef dishes were served to 200 people at the festival before about 50 students belonging to a right-wing Hindu group tried to enter the venue, police said.
"The organizers told us that they were not going to cook beef on the campus but were only bringing in cooked food from outside," senior officer Y. Gangadhar told Agence France Presse.
"There was some stone-pelting forcing us to throw teargas shells to bring the situation under control."
The event, the first of its kind at the university, was to campaign for beef to be included on menus at student hostel accommodation.
"It is unfortunate that people who consume beef are looked down upon by the upper castes, but for centuries beef has been part of our diet," B. Sudarshan, a Dalit research scholar and festival organizer, told AFP.
"What is wrong in consuming beef? Those opposed to it can advise people not to have beef but they can't force their diktat on us."
Hyderabad student politics have a history of violent confrontation, with previous clashes over the proposed creation of Telangana state, which would be carved out of the present state of Andhra Pradesh.
The city has attracted major investment from global firms such as Microsoft and Google and is a symbol of India's emerging economy, but also suffers from deep inter-religious tension.
Many Indian states have introduced various jail terms for cow slaughter in recent years in a trend seen as reflecting radical Hindu views and anti-Muslim sentiment.