Conflicts & War

Escalating Hindu-Muslim religious tension grips India

By David Asta Alares

New Delhi, Apr 26 (EFE).- India is again in the throes of escalating communal tension, with riots between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority during religious celebrations, after a contentious ban on the Islamic veil in schools and controversy over mosque loudspeakers.

Human rights organizations like Amnesty International (AI) have denounced the growing discrimination against Indian Muslims under the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Two weeks ago, during the Hindu festival Ram Navami, which marks the birth of Lord Ram, a series of processions led to clashes between Hindus and Muslims in the states of Gujarat (west), Madhya Pradesh (center), Jharkhand (east), and West Bengal (east).

Processions in New Delhi and the southern state of Andhra Pradesh on the birth anniversary of Hanuman – the monkey god in Hinduism – also resulted in violence, with members of the two communities shouting and pelting stones at one another.

Aakar Patel, author and former head of Amnesty International (AI) in India, says the clashes go beyond isolated incidents and show a “completely political” pattern driven by BJP-like organizations and their influential “ideological father,” the extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

“They are using these occasions which are supposed to be religious to mobilize large numbers of people and going into Muslim neighborhoods,” Patel said.

“Hindus insist on taking their so-called religious processions brandishing weapons, abusing Muslims, and then deliberately provoking violence.”

Although the phenomenon is not unknown in a multicultural and multi-religious country like India, tension has been rising in recent years.

“I am very worried about it. We have had such things in the past once in my lifetime. I am 52. And this was during the campaign the BJP ran against the Babri mosque,” said Patel.

The Babri mosque in Ayodhya of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh was at the same spot believed to be the birthplace of the Hindu deity Lord Ram.

The BJP-led campaign culminated in the demolition of the mosque in 1992 by a mob of Hindu fundamentalists.

It triggered a wave of riots in the months that followed, in which some 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

“What is new this time is that the state is actually pushing the violence,” said Patel.

He said the ban on hijab in schools in Karnataka, controversy over the use of loudspeakers in mosques in Maharashtra, and attacks on Muslims by vigilante groups to protect cows – sacred in Hinduism – are more examples of state-protected harassment.

New Delhi’s Jahangirpuri area witnessed clashes during a procession in honor of the Hindu god Hanuman in front of a mosque on Apr.16, followed by the demolition of properties by the local administration using bulldozers in the Muslim-dominated neighborhood.

The ruling BJP claimed the move was against illegal constructions, something also seen in several other states, even as critics have underlined that the victims are usually Muslims, and it is done in reprisal for standing up to the majority community.

“Riots are a terrible thing. We should live together in harmony as we did earlier, as brothers. Nothing can be achieved by fighting,” Mohammad Ikram, a resident of Jahangirpuri, told EFE when bulldozers were demolishing the shops and the entrance to the mosque in the locality.

Just a few streets away, in an area inhabited mostly by Hindus, Charan Singh told EFE that such violence “had never happened in the neighborhood.”

Singh, 27, also denounced the presence of “Bengalis” in the area, referring to Muslims allegedly from Bangladesh residing in Jahangirpuri as those identified as responsible for clashes by Hindu nationalist groups.

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