Low-caste pregnant woman attacked in India over dead cow

Ahmedabad (India) (AFP) - An angry mob in India attacked a low-caste pregnant woman and her family for refusing to clear away a cow carcass because of a weeks-long strike against such work, police said Monday.

Sangita Ranawasia, who is five months' pregnant and from India's lowest Dalit caste, was recovering in hospital after she and seven family members were beaten with sticks in their village in the western state of Gujarat.

"Six persons of the upper-caste Darbar community were arrested for assault on a pregnant woman and her family members," deputy police superintendent B A Chavda told AFP.

"The accused are in judicial custody and charges will be framed against them soon," said Chavda in Gujarat's Banaskantha district.

The attack late on Friday comes as Dalits continue their strike against collecting carcasses in Gujarat in protest at the public flogging of four Dalit villagers in July.

Dalits, formerly known as "untouchables," are commonly tasked with removing dead cows from streets, where the animals often roam freely.

Anger has mounted among the Dalit community and violent protests have erupted over the flogging of the villagers by cow-protection vigilantes who accused them of killing a beast they were removing.

Cows are considered sacred by Hindus and killing them is banned in most Indian states.

Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged a halt to attacks on Dalits, who lie at the bottom of India's deeply entrenched social hierarchy.

Cow carcasses can be seen on roadsides in Gujarat as Dalits demand an end to deep-rooted discrimination and violence.

Police officer Chavda said the mob was angry at the Dalits' refusal to remove the carcass due to the strike, and tensions have been running high in the village.

Ranawasia, whose unborn child was unharmed in the attack, and her family have since been given police protection.

The upper-caste mob face initial charges of assault and criminal intimidation, he said.