2 killed as Muslim and Hindus clash in India

A policeman aims a handgun at demonstrators during a protest in Ranchi on June 10, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

LUCKNOW, INDIA (REUTERS, AFP) - Two teenagers were killed on Friday (June 10) in amarks about the Prophet Mohammad by two ruling party officials, police said on Saturday.

Police opened fire to break up the violence in the city of Ranchi in Jharkhand state, but it was not clear if the two victims were killed by the police or by rioters.

Senior police official Surendra Kumar Jha said at least 14 police officials were injured in the incident in Ranchi and other areas. A curfew was imposed and Internet services suspended to stop the unrest escalating.

In northern Uttar Pradesh state police said they had arrested 230 alleged rioters after unrest spread across several towns after Friday prayers.

The police in Uttar Pradesh fired tear gas to disperse at least one rally after several demonstrations were staged across the northern Indian state.

Most protests ended peacefully but demonstrators in some cities threw stones at police and injured at least one officer, said Mr Avanish Awasthi, a senior government secretary in the state.

“We will take strict action against those indulging in stone pelting and violence,” Mr Awasthi told reporters.

Muslims have been protesting about comments made recently by two officials from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) about the Prophet’s private life, with the demonstrations often turning into violence between Hindus and Muslims.

The BJP has suspended its spokeswoman Nupur Sharma and expelled another leader, Mr Naveen Kumar Jindal, for making the anti-Islamic remarks, which as well as upsetting Indian Muslims caused a diplomatic row from several Muslim countries.

The BJP - a Hindu nationalist party - said the offensive remarks did not reflect the government’s position and that the comments were made by “fringe elements”.

Party leaders have also instructed officials to be cautious when talking about religion on public platforms. 

Police in New Delhi said on Thursday they had filed a complaint against Ms Sharma and others for “inciting people on divisive lines” on social media.

However, some in the minority Muslim community see this as the latest instance of pressure and humiliation under BJP rule on issues ranging from freedom of worship to the wearing of hijab head scarves.

Cities around India saw sizable demonstrations on Friday, with some crowds burning effigies of Ms Nupur Sharma - the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokeswoman whose comments set off the furore.

Authorities also cut Internet services for the weekend in several districts near the eastern megacity of Kolkata, after protesters blocked a railway line and mobbed a police station.

Ms Sharma’s remarks have embroiled India in a diplomatic storm, with the governments of nearly 20 countries calling in Indian envoys for an explanation.

Since coming to power nationally in 2014, Modi’s government and the BJP have been accused of championing discriminatory policies towards followers of the Islamic faith.

His government proposed a controversial law that granted citizenship to refugees in India, but not if they are Muslim, while state BJP governments have passed laws making it harder for Muslims to marry outside their religion.

The foreign ministry last week rebuked US officials for what India termed “ill-informed” and “biased” comments made during the release of a religious freedom report that accused Indian officials of supporting attacks on minority worshippers.

Sharma’s comments sent the BJP into damage control, with the party suspending her from its ranks and issuing a statement saying it respected all religions.

Friday saw the biggest South Asian street rallies yet in response to the remarks, with police estimating that more than 100,000 people mobilised across Bangladesh after midday prayers.

Another 5,000 people took to the streets in the Pakistani city of Lahore at the call of a radical religious party, demanding that their government take stronger action against India over the comments.

The row follows anger across the Muslim world in 2020 after French President Emmanuel Macron defended the right of a satirical magazine to publish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

French teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in October 2020 by a Chechen refugee after showing the cartoons to his class in a lesson on free speech. Images of the prophet are strictly forbidden in Sunni Islam.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.