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India’s Muslims Grapple With Growing Communal Violence

Hindu revellers celebrating the birthday of Hindu deity Hanuman stopped outside a mosque and began shouting Jai Shree Ram with some members of the procession attempting to barge inside the mosque.

Hindu revellers celebrating the birthday of Hindu deity Hanuman stopped outside a mosque and began shouting Jai Shree Ram with some members of the procession attempting to barge inside the mosque.

NEW DELHI — Jahangirpuri is a mixed neighbourhood of Hindus and Musims in the north western part of New Delhi, India’s capital city. On April 16 evening as Muslims residents were preparing for Iftar to break their fast, a crowd of Hindu reverlers celebrating the birthday of Hindu deity Hanuman stopped outside a mosque and began shouting Jai Shree Ram, a chant in reverence of Hindu deity Ram which has lately become a war cry for Hindu nationalists.

Eyewitnesses allege that some members of the procession attempted to barge inside the mosque which evoked resistance. The clashes saw stone pelting and arson. Police later said that four vehicles were set afire and eight people including seven cops were injured in the riots. At least 25 people have been arrested so far, a majority of them are Muslim.

What happened in Jahangirpuri was one of the string of communal riots that have roiled parts of India in the last few weeks coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan. Everywhere the pattern was the same; Hindu processions marched into Muslim neighborhoods raising hate filled slogans while the participants clad in saffron— a color that has come to symbolise Hindu extremism— brandished swords and shotguns. In some places they raised Hindu flags atop the mosque minarets. The provocations led to clashes. Result; destruction, vandalism, arson, injuries and even deaths.

Communal violence is not a new affair in India but what is more shocking this time is the response of the police and civil authorities. Firstly, the police are facing accusations of allowing the mobs to run amok. Secondly, the action is also lopsided against Muslims since they form the majority of those arrested.

Moreover, in states ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the authorities resorted to retributive justice against Muslims who were accused of indulging in violence —their homes and shops were bulldozed. For instance on April 10 Hindu revellers targeted Muslims and their homes during a procession into a Muslim neighbourhood in Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh. Next day, the civil administration aided by police moved in bulldozers and demolished properties in Muslim neighborhoods.

The officials defended the exercise claiming that they were going after structures built illegally by encroaching roads and public land. But opposition politicians and activists said that the demoltion was discriminatory intended to punish Muslims. In fact, the minister who oversees public order in the state told a news channel, “If Muslims carry out such attacks, then they should not expect justice.”

Similar demolition exercises were also carried out in other riot hit states including Gujarat and Delhi. The action prompted massive public outrage and had to be halted midway after the Supreme Court in April ordered the authorities in Delhi to maintain the status quo.

The officials argued that they were clearing illegal encroachments but it has sparked more questions with legal experts saying such exercises can not be prompted by riots. They said a due process has to be followed before rolling in bulldozers.

Ashar Warsi, a lawyer who is fighting a case for the victims at the High Court in Indore termed these demolitions carried by the government “totally illegal” , “unfair”, “arbitrary” and “targeted at a particular community”, referring to Muslims.

“The demolitions which are being carried out continuously are basically not for upholding the law but for creating a threat in a person’s mind that the government or the administration shall act as per their whims and fancies if any voice is raised against them,” Warsi told the Muslim Vibe.

Asaduddin Owaisi, the foremost Muslim politician in the country said of demolitions a “violation of Geneva conventions”.

Amidst the spike in anti-Muslim violence, a coalition of 13 opposition parties came out with a strong worded joint statement condemning the spike in violence as they questioned Modi’s silence on the matter, which they said proves the extremists enjoy “official patronage”. The statement further accused the government of using communal issues to “polarise our society”.

Image credit: India Today

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