AHMEDABAD (India) • Hindu hardliners rampaged through several Indian cities yesterday protesting against a controversial Bollywood film on the eve of its cinema debut, as mobs clashed with police, torched vehicles and vandalised malls.
The unrest followed a night of rioting in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat, where police fired shots in the air to disperse hundreds protesting against Padmaavat, a film about a legendary Hindu queen.
Demonstrators claim the film falsely depicts a romance between Queen Padmavati and 14th century Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji.
Producers deny this and insist they have portrayed her respectfully in the movie, which has not yet been viewed by its critics.
In Gujarat's capital, Ahmedabad, several hundred people attacked shops in malls, set alight 50 motorbikes and damaged more than 150 cars on Tuesday, police said.
The violence spread yesterday, with a bus torched by a mob in Gurugram, a satellite city outside the capital New Delhi, briefly blocking a major highway to the south as protesters pelted stones at police.
The violence came just as New Delhi began to receive South-east Asian leaders for a major summit today, to be followed tomorrow by a parade and celebrations for India's Republic Day.
Protesters claim the film falsely depicts a romance between 14th century Hindu queen Padmavati and Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji. The producers deny this and insist the movie portrays her respectfully.
Security for the parade, which is to be attended by ten leaders from the Association of South-east Asian Nations, is tighter than in previous years.
Similar riots unfolded in other cities, with baton-wielding police charging protesters in Etawah in Uttar Pradesh state as they marched through the streets. Demonstrators also stopped a passenger train on the tracks in Mathura, another large city in the state.
Cinemas and malls were targeted in several cities, including Jammu, where a ticket booth was torched.
A group of about 150 women belonging to the Rajput caste threatened yesterday to burn themselves alive if the film was released.
"The government should either ban the film, or give us the permission to kill ourselves," one of the women told broadcaster Times Now.
Efforts by several states to ban the film's release were rejected by India's top court, which ruled such action violated creative freedom.
Police in riot gear were stationed outside theatres as threats of violence escalated.
Police in Ahmedabad said more than 500 names had been registered and at least 100 arrests made following the melee.
In the financial capital of Mumbai, police have boosted security at all theatres screening the film, and detained more than 100 members of protest groups, a senior police official said.
Police are also closely monitoring social media, he added.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS