India: Muslims see wave of attacks, hate speech on Hindu festival

Right-wing Hindu groups hold processions in Muslim neighbourhoods and make hate speeches during Ram Navmi celebrations in several states.

Hindu festival
Hindu devotees take part in a religious procession to celebrate Ram Navmi festival in Hyderabad [Mahesh Kumar A/AP]

Muslims in several Indian states are on edge after mobs came out in processions, making hate speeches and attacking their properties during the Hindu festival of Ram Navmi.

Most of the violence was reported from the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand and West Bengal on Sunday as the Hindu community celebrated the birthday of the god Ram, one of the religion’s chief deities. “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Ram) is a chant that has lately become a rallying cry by right-wing Hindu groups as they target Muslims and other minorities.

Dozens of videos have been going viral on Indian social media since Sunday, showing processions of Hindu men wearing saffron scarves – and, in some cases, carrying sticks and swords – stopping their motorcycles in Muslim neighbourhoods, playing provocative songs laced with threats of genocide outside homes and mosques, and raising hate slogans.

In one of the videos, purportedly from the eastern state of Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, a man was seen climbing a mosque wall and planting a saffron flag on its entrance as others cheered, flashing swords and hockey sticks.

Al Jazeera has not independently verified the authenticity of those videos.

In some places, the provocations led to members of the minority community throwing stones at the processions, leading to tensions. In some instances, even police personnel were seen joining the mob.

Some of the worst rioting was reported from the district of Khargone in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Fazluddin Shaikh, a resident of Khargone, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that a mosque in the Sarafa Bazar area was set on fire by a Hindu mob on Sunday night during the Ram Navmi procession.

At least 10 houses were also set on fire and more than 24 people, including a police officer, were injured in the violence that erupted in Khargone, forcing the administration to impose a curfew in some parts of the district.

Khargone District Collector Anugraha P told Al Jazeera on Monday the “situation in the area was under control” and nearly 50 people, belonging to both the communities, had been arrested.

However, Shaikh said, two days after the incident, they were still “struggling to register” a report with the police.

“At least 11 FIRs (first information reports) have been registered against Muslims and over 84 people have rounded up, but police is neither registering a case nor arresting anyone from the majority community,” he said.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Monday said the “rioters have been identified”.

“Those who have pelted stones will be punished but along with it they will be made to pay for the losses to both public and private properties.”

Properties bulldozed

The same day, the Khargone district administration bulldozed at least 16 houses and 29 shops – belonging to those accused of throwing stones at Ram Navmi processions – in five localities of the district, a report in The Indian Express newspaper said on Tuesday.

Bulldozing the homes and properties of Muslims accused of crimes – even if a trial is still under way in the courts – is a phenomenon that has been seen before in BJP-ruled states. The practice started in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, governed by a hardline saffron-clad Hindu monk known for his hate speech against Muslims.

When asked about the bulldozing of properties, Anugraha P told Al Jazeera they were connected to “earlier cases of encroachment”. She did not provide further details.

Many Muslim leaders and activists have condemned the government for bulldozing the properties of the accused, questioning the legality of such moves.

“Under what law the government of Madhya Pradesh has demolished houses of the Muslim community? It clearly shows (chief minister’s) biased attitude towards Muslim minority,” parliamentarian Asaduddin Owaisi told India’s ANI news agency on Tuesday, calling it “a state-complicit violence and grave violation of the Geneva Convention”.

Incidents of violence during the Ram Navmi celebrations were also reported from Sendhwa, a town in the neighbouring Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh.

Shivraj Singh, district collector of Barwani, told Al Jazeera over the telephone on Monday that loud music played near a mosque provoked some Muslims who threw stones at a Ram Navmi procession, leading to clashes between the two groups.

Singh, however, added that no restrictions had been imposed in the city and that the situation was “totally under control now”.

In the western state of Gujarat, also ruled by the BJP, incidents of violence were reported from the town of Khambhat in the Anand district and Himmatnagar in the Sabarkantha district on Sunday.

“We have detained seven people after the clashes and tight security arrangements have been put in place to prevent further tension,” M J Chaudhari, a police official in Khambat, was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency on Monday.

Media reports said a number of shops and vehicles were set on fire in Khambhat and Himmatnagar, with at least one person dying in the violence.

In the southern state of Telangana, hardline BJP legislator, T Raja Singh, attended a Ram Navmi procession, where provocative slogans and songs were played. One of the songs played in the march said: “Those who don’t take Ram’s name will have to leave the country.”

‘Well-crafted and organised’

A similar pattern of hate speech against Muslims and violence was also reported in several other Indian states, including Jharkhand and West Bengal in the east – both states governed by parties opposed to the BJP.

Owaisi, a member of parliament from the southern city of Hyderabad and head of a political party, accused the police of “provoking and participating” in the violence.

“In many places, Ram Navmi (processions) were used to make hate speeches against Muslims,” Owaisi tweeted.

Meanwhile, in the capital New Delhi, students belonging to a Hindu group were accused of attacking other students at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University over non-vegetarian food served in one of its hostels on Ram Navmi.

Several students, including women, belonging to left-wing groups were injured in the attack.

Rahul Gandhi, India’s main opposition leader, tweeted on Monday: “Hate, violence and exclusion are weakening our beloved country.

“The path to progress is paved with the bricks of brotherhood, peace and harmony. Let’s stand together to secure a just, inclusive India.”

Another opposition parliamentarian, Manoj Kumar Jha, said Sunday’s incidents “should be the last warning signal for everyone that we are in the closest vicinity of a possible ‘civil war’ with genocidal tenor”.

New Delhi-based activist Nadeem Khan, founder of the United Against Hate group, told Al Jazeera the hate speech against Muslims and attacks on mosques in various parts of the country during Ram Navmi “clearly shows that it was a well-crafted and organised activity to instigate communal violence in the country”.

“Failing to stop these attempts may lead to civil violations and systematic attacks on minorities. All peace-loving citizens and human rights defenders must come together to resist the situation and keep peace in order,” he said.

Kashif Kakvi contributed to this report from Madhya Pradesh, India.

Source: Al Jazeera