NEW DELHI: The leader of a hardline Hindu group has justified the beating of two street vendors from India-occupied Kashmir by its members, saying “suspicious” Kashmiris had to be watched after the attack on the Indian army last month.
The assault on the fruit-sellers by the saffron-shirted activists has been widely condemned in the country. But many Indians have turned their anger on Kashmiris.
The fruit vendors were attacked in Lucknow on Wednesday.
But what might have been just another altercation in a series of such incidents in recent days hit the headlines when the assailants, who slapped and hit the two men with a wooden stick, posted video of it on social media.
The attackers were members of the Vishwa Hindu Dal (VHD) and their leader was unapologetic.
“Yes, my workers beat them. After the attack on our army men with the help of Kashmiri jihadis, there is anger among the public,” the group’s president, Ambuj Nigam, said on Thursday.
“The Kashmiris pelt stones at our soldiers and wave the Pakistani flag. Why should we tolerate that?”
Nigam said the two hawkers had looked “suspicious” so his members asked them for identity cards. His men had called the police, but they had taken took too long to arrive, he added.
“Sometimes, when the police are late, we have to take matters into our own hands.”
He said he had ordered his 50,000 members across India to keep an eye on Kashmiris to check if they are engaged in illegal acts.
The videos show the Kashmiri men cowering on the pavement as they are slapped and beaten with a stick by two men wearing saffron-coloured shirts.
One of the Kashmiris is heard wailing as he is pulled up by his shirt collar and slapped, before he runs off. A passerby intervened and managed to stop the other Kashmiri man from being beaten further.
Police said four men had been arrested for the assault and the two Kashmiris were free to sell their goods at the spot again.
“We will take action against the people responsible,” senior police official Anand Kumar told a news conference.
The Indian government has ordered authorities across the country to protect Kashmiris.
Nigam said Facebook had blocked his account after he posted video of the assault on the vendors.
Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2019