Pehlu Khan, 55, was one of 15 men pulled from cattle trucks and beaten with sticks and metal rods by a mob in the northwest state of Rajasthan.
Hindus consider cows to be sacred and in many Indian states, the slaughtering of cows and selling of beef are either restricted or banned.
Both are prohibited in Rajasthan.
In some parts of India, squads of vigilantes known as gaurakshaks roam highways inspecting livestock trucks for any trace of the animal.
Mr Khan’s family have said he was transporting the animals for dairy farming.
The men had bought the cows at a cattle fair and were on their way home to the neighbouring state of Haryana when they were stopped.
Police are investigating and have seized vehicles but no arrests have been made.
One officer, Ramesh Chand Sinsinwar, told the AFP news agency the men were transporting the animals without permission.
Rajasthan’s home minister, Gulab Chand Kataria, said both sides were to blame.
He told NDTV: “The problem is from both the sides. People know cow-trafficking is illegal but they do it.
“Gaurakshaks try to stop those who indulge in such crimes.
“However, taking the law in one’s hand is wrong. Police will act against both sides.”
For many Hindus, who form 80% of India’s 1.3bn population, eating beef is taboo.
Since Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, took office in 2014, hard-line Hindus have been demanding that India ban beef sales – a key industry for many within India’s poor Muslim community.