Indian police shoot dead two protesters in Ranchi during demonstrations over remarks against Holy Prophet

Published June 11, 2022
Muslims participate in a protest demanding the arrest of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Nupur Sharma for her comments on the Prophet in Kolkata, India on Friday. — Reuters
Muslims participate in a protest demanding the arrest of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Nupur Sharma for her comments on the Prophet in Kolkata, India on Friday. — Reuters

Indian police shot dead two protesters and arrested more than 130 others during street rallies sparked by a ruling party official's remarks about Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), authorities told AFP on Saturday.

There have been widespread protests in the Muslim world since last week, when Nupur Sharma, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party party made offensive remarks about the Prophet (PBUH) on a TV debate show.

In India and neighbouring countries, Muslims took to the streets in huge numbers after Friday prayers to condemn the remarks, with police firing on a crowd in the eastern Indian city of Ranchi.

“Police were forced to open fire to disperse protesters ... resulting in the death of two,” a police officer in Ranchi told AFP.

Officers said that the crowd had defied their orders not to march from a mosque to a market and had thrown broken bottles and stones when police attempted to disperse the rally with a baton charge.

Authorities cut internet connections in the city and imposed a curfew, with local resident Shabnam Ara telling AFP the atmosphere remained tense on Saturday.

“We are praying for peace and harmony,” she said.

Police in Uttar Pradesh fired tear gas to disperse at least one rally after several demonstrations were staged across the northern Indian state.

Most protests ended peacefully, but demonstrators in some cities threw stones at police and injured at least one officer, said Avanish Awasthi, a senior government secretary in the state.

“We will take strict action against those indulging in stone pelting and violence,” Awasthi told reporters. “Those working behind the scenes, instigating violence, will not be spared at all.”

Prashant Kumar, a senior police officer in the state, told AFP that up to “136 protesting miscreants” had been arrested from six districts around Uttar Pradesh.

Cities around India saw sizable demonstrations on Friday, with some crowds burning effigies of Nupur Sharma — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokeswoman whose comments set off the furore.

Authorities also cut internet services for the weekend in several districts near the eastern megacity of Kolkata, after protesters blocked a railway line and mobbed a police station.

Videos of police brutality against Muslims have emerged out of India, posted by journalists and researchers with verified accounts. Dawn.com has been unable to independently verify the footage.

PM Shehbaz calls for passing resolution condemning BJP official's remarks

Sharma's remarks have embroiled India in a diplomatic storm, with the governments of nearly 20 countries calling in Indian envoys for an explanation.

The latest in the string of condemnations came from Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who requested National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf on Saturday that the matter be taken up in the house for a debate.

He made the request in a series of tweets, saying that he condemned "harassment by BJP leaders".

The prime minister said the BJP officials' remarks had left Muslims aggrieved across the world and highlighted that they had been protesting the comments.

"There should a debate in the house on this matter of our devotion and love for the" Prophet (PBUH), he said, further calling for passing a resolution on it.

"With a resolution, we want to tell India and the entire world that we are ready to make any sacrifice for the Prophet's sanctity," he added.

Meanwhile, President Dr Arif Alvi condemned today's violence, saying that the "brutal and disproportionate use" of force against protesters was "unfair and reprehensible".

He said state-sponsored violence against Muslims by various Hindutva groups was a reflection of the growing trend of Islamophobia and extremism in India.

"India should abandon its Hindutva policies, stop targeting minorities and hurting their religious sentiments," President Alvi said, adding that rising incidents of violence against minorities should be curbed.

He called on India to take action against the BJP officials for their disrespectful remarks and take immediate steps to protect minorities and allow them to practice their faith in peace.

"The international community should take immediate notice of the deteriorating situation of Islamophobia in India."

The Foreign Office said the treatment being meted out to protesters was a "new low" aimed at "demonising & persecuting minorities".

Modi govt's 'discriminatory policies'

Since coming to power nationally in 2014, Modi's government and the BJP have been accused of championing discriminatory policies towards the followers of Islam.

Read: Expert who predicted Rwandan genocide warns same could happen in India against Muslims

His government proposed a controversial law that granted citizenship to refugees in India, but not if they are Muslim, while state BJP governments have passed laws making it harder for Muslims to marry outside their religion.

Read: 'Love jihad' law seen trampling women's hard-earned freedoms in India

The foreign ministry last week rebuked US officials for what India termed “ill-informed” and “biased” comments made during the release of a religious freedom report that accused Indian officials of supporting attacks on minority worshippers.

Sharma's comments sent the BJP into damage control, with the party suspending her from its ranks and issuing a statement saying it respected all religions.

Muslims take to streets in Asia

Friday saw the biggest South Asian street rallies yet in response to the remarks, with police estimating more than 100,000 people mobilised across Bangladesh after midday prayers.

Another 5,000 people took to the streets in Lahore at the call of a religious party, demanding that the government take stronger action against India over the comments.

The row follows anger across the Muslim world in 2020 after French President Emmanuel Macron defended the right of a satirical magazine to publish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

French teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in October 2020 by a Chechen refugee after showing the cartoons to his class in a lesson on free speech.

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