By Zeba Siddiqui and Jatindra Dash
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A mob on Friday beat to death three men suspected of trying to steal cattle in India's eastern state of Bihar, police said, the latest in a spate of attacks that have provoked alarm among religious minorities.
In recent years angry mobs have lynched many people from marginalized groups in India, especially Muslims and the Dalits who occupy the lowest rung of the ancient caste system, often over suspicions of cow slaughter.
The three men were caught by some villagers early on Friday while trying to load cattle on a pickup truck, police official Har Kishore Rai said.
"They were trying to load a buffalo and a calf when some villagers woke up and took the three into their custody and beat them up," he said, adding that the men had died.
Police have arrested three people from the village of Pithauri and have filed a case of murder against four more from the village, administrative official Lokesh Mishra told Reuters.
Police have filed a case of theft against the three men, and the villagers face a separate case of murder filed by the victims' families, naming three accused people, although more names are likely to be added, Mishra said.
Hinduism, India's dominant religion, considers cows sacred, and killing them is taboo.
Activists have tracked a rise in the number of mob lynchings in the last five years that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government has been in power. Critics accuse it of not having done enough to rein in such violence.
The Supreme Court last year recommended making mob lynching a separate offense. In July, opposition parties in Bihar demanded a separate law against mob lynching in the state, where they say the problem is growing.
(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui and Jatindra Dash; Editing by Alasdair Pal and Clarence Fernandez)