India’s BJP under fire for blasphemy protest crackdown

Unrest spread in several Indian states last week after controversial remarks were made by senior members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) about the Islamic prophet Muhammed.

So far, over 300 people have been arrested in the northern Uttar Pradesh state, and scores more were arrested in the states of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Assam.

In Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand in eastern India, two protesters died of gunshot wounds sustained during clashes with police, and others were treated for various injuries.

Across several towns, authorities enforced an emergency law prohibiting public gatherings.

Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, ordered officials to demolish buildings and homes of people accused of organizing the protests.

Authorities in the city of Kanpur and Saharanpur demolished at least two properties with bulldozers, including the house of Mohammad Javed, a political activist, with only a day’s notice to vacate. Authorities said the building was built “illegally.”

Police also claimed Javed had organized a demonstration that turned violent.

A press notice issued by the government said authorities were acting under a national security act.

“Clearly, the bulldozing of Muslim properties has little to do with their legality. It’s the intent of those in power to teach the Muslim community a lesson,” political commentator Sudheendra Kulkarni told DW.

Authorities demolish the residence of activist Mohammad Javed

The BJP said the protests were an attempt by Islamic interest groups to rally communal tensions for political gain.

“These were protests masterminded elsewhere in conjunction with some elements in India. But it will not affect the Indian government,” BJP spokesperson Tom Vadakkan told DW.

Vadakkan said the protests were part of an “orchestrated program” with a specific game plan.

“There are elements who want to disrupt the social fabric of the country and they need to be isolated so that the development agenda can progress,” Vadakkan said.

After days of violence, leaders of prominent Islamic groups and mosques have appealed to fellow Muslims to suspend plans for further protests.

“We will oppose this partisan behavior of the police in the court of the law. But I call upon leaders, office bearers, and workers not to participate in any demonstration organised in any district,” W Shaukat Ali, state unit president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, a political party, told reporters.

Communal tension reaches another flashpoint

The unrest began after BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma commented on Prophet Muhammad’s youngest wife during a televised debate two weeks ago, specifically about how old she was believed to be when they married. She was subsequently suspended by the BJP.

Another BJP spokesperson, Naveen Jindal, was also suspended over separate comments made about Islam on social media.

Muslim groups in India have demanded their arrest. The row has again exposed deep divisions between India’s minority Muslim population and the Hindu-nationalist government.

Kulkarni said anger among Indian Muslims has been building up over the years and has now reached crisis levels.

“If the rising communal temperature in India is not lowered and if hate propaganda against Muslims is not stopped or if large-scale violence erupts, then there will surely be very unpleasant consequences,” added Kulkarni.

Political scientist Sudha Pai said the protests by Muslims should be seen as an assertion of their place in Indian society amid increased marginalization.

“What we are witnessing in the country, especially in Uttar Pradesh, is a consolidation of power of the BJP that has only reinforced their authoritarian streak. Unfortunately, opposition parties are not able to counter it. That is the present reality,” Pai told DW.

Watch video 02:10 India faces criticism over Muhammad comments

High court responds to ‘hate speech’

On Monday, the Delhi high court called for action against hate speech by elected representatives, political and religious leaders, emphasizing that such utterances are the “beginning point of attacks” against the targeted community.

The court said hate speech can lead to “discrimination to ostracism, ghettoization, deportation, and, even to genocide,” said justice Chandra Dhari Singh, while hearing a petition on alleged hate speech against BJP leaders.

“Hate speech is almost invariably targeted towards a community to impart a psychological impact on their psyche, creating fear in the process,” said Singh

Navaid Hamid, president of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), an umbrella body of over a dozen leading Muslim organizations, told DW that the crackdown on Muslims and the bulldozing of their property has a clear message.

“This government thrives on the politics of hate. It wanted to send a clear message to its core constituency of hard-line Hindus that it had not deviated from its path of othering the Muslims. That is why it resorted to bulldozing houses,” Hamid said.

Edited by: Wesley Rahn