According to eyewitness accounts, this blood-curdling sequence of events unfolded in a matter of minutes Monday night: A Hindu temple announced sacrilege; villagers formed an angry mob; and normal people, fueled by each other's presence, became assailants.
A Muslim blacksmith, Mohammad Akhlaq, and his son Danish were battered by people who knew them. The father died, and his son was has been hospitalized with critical injuries.
What triggered the bloody assault? A rumor that a cow was slaughtered in that nondescript neighborhood, home to mostly Rajputs — a high-ranking valiant Hindu caste meaning "sons of the kings."
In Hinduism, cows are deemed sacred and their killing a sin.
'It was blood all over my son's face. He is gone'
"Two young men came to me that night and asked me to announce on the loudspeaker that there's a carcass of a cow lying nearby," the temple priest, Sukhdas Mahatma, told CNN.
"They pressured me to make that announcement. What could I do? I had to make that announcement," he said, moving his fingers on his flowing white beard.
Soon after his broadcast, villagers crowded around the temple compound, and decided to set out for Akhlaq's home through the winding, narrow and broken lanes. They believed the 50-year-old blacksmith was the culprit because his faith doesn't prohibit eating beef. And his was one of the two Muslim households in that neighborhood of more than 6,000 people.
"I heard loud bangs on the front door of our house," said Asghari Begum, the mother of Mohammad Akhlaq. "Then I heard them shouting expletives," she said. Before she could react, a group of men scaled the walls and jumped into the house.
"They pushed me, then punched me on my face, in the abdomen," Begum said, pointing to her bruised and swollen eye.
The mob then ran to the first floor of Akhlaq's home and dragged him out, along with 22-year-old Danish. Both were beaten with "whatever they (attackers) could lay their hands on," police superintendent Kiran Sivakumar told CNN.
"It was blood all over my son's face. He is gone," moaned Begum, sitting on a cot in her dark, ground-floor room.
Upstairs, the telltale signs of the raid were still everywhere. A refrigerator that stored meat lay down broken on the floor. The ransacked rooms were still strewn with shattered vases and sewing machines.
Police have so far arrested six of the 10 men Akhlaq's family has named in their initial police complaint. These were people they knew. More arrests are likely, Sivakumar said.
Unease was palpable in the village as the murder drew widespread media attention. No one in the village admits to being part of the mob.
"My son is innocent. He has been falsely implicated," said Ombir Sisodia, father of one of the jailed men. "He was sick and sleeping when mobs gathered around after the temple announcement," Sisodia said.
Police have seized meat samples from Akhlaq's home for testing. The family says the meat is goat and not beef. Regardless of what kind of meat it is, "it doesn't absolve (the attackers of) the crime," police superintendent Sivakumar said.
Sacredness of cows
Cow slaughter is banned in most of Hindu-majority India, including in Uttar Pradesh.
This year, the western state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, became one of the latest to outlaw beef.
"The sacredness of cows in India might be a cliché, but it is deeply felt, rooted in the history of Hinduism," said novelist Manil Suri in a New York Times column
But "imposing ideals from a mythic past is not the answer," he wrote in the April op-ed. "The true lesson to take away from history is how utilitarian goals can shape religious custom. Hinduism has always been a pragmatic religion; what today's India needs is accommodation."