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NEW DELHI: Thousands of Hindus from the liberal stock across the country on Thursday protested against what they said a hate crime in Pune in which a Muslim youth was killed by Hindu extremists.

Soon after the killing of the 28-year-old Shaikh Mohsin Sadiq on Monday, the alleged killers, belonging to a Hindu extremist outfit, exchanged an ominous message on their mobiles. The message said, ‘Pahli wicket padli’, which means: The first wicket has fallen, The Hindustan Times reported on Thursday.

It said the message was circulated by members of the Hindu Rashtra Sena who have been accused of killing the IT graduate during Monday’s protests over the morphed pictures, which were taken off the social networking site on Friday.

The extremist violence is believed to be linked to the upcoming elections for the Maharashtra state assembly, which is currently ruled by the Congress party. More than a dozen suspects have been arrested.

“We express our deep shock at the gruesome incident of hate crime reported in the city of Pune earlier this week,” IT professionals from Pune, led by liberal activists from the Hindu community said in a statement. There were similar appeals across the country.

“Mohsin was reportedly returning home after offering namaz at a mosque on Monday night when he found himself caught by the mob. As is the case in every hate crime, a skull cap on head and beard were enough for the killers to pounce on him with deadly intentions,” the statement said.

The city was witnessing bandh and violent street protests by Shiv Sena, BJP and other radical Hindu organisations in the wake of Facebook post(s) with allegedly derogatory references to Shivaji and former Shiva Sena Chief Bal Thackeray. The assailants were apparently involved in similar protests when they spotted Mohsin on Monday night in Bankar Colony in Hadapsar area of Pune.

“One cannot help seeing this incident vis-à-vis forthcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra. As a run-up to the elections which are due in a few months, an attempt to polarise the masses on communal lines with the sheer intention of electoral gains, as we have seen elsewhere, seems to be on the cards,” the statement by activists said.

“We appeal to the state government to thwart any such attempts with alacrity while ensuring safety to every citizen; we also appeal to the people of Maharashtra to not fall prey to such hideous designs and uphold the progressive tradition of the state that has seen peaceful co- existence of various sects, religions and cultural groups with no place for hatred.”

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2014