As elec­tion ap­proaches, re­li­gious ten­sions surge in In­dian vil­lage

UP vil­lage sym­bol of deep­en­ing com­mu­nal di­vide

Kuwait Times - - International -

NAYABANS, In­dia: Nayabans isn’t re­mark­able as north­ern In­dian vil­lages go. Sugar cane grows in sur­round­ing fields, women carry an­i­mal feed in bul­lock carts through nar­row lanes, peo­ple chat­ter out­side a store, and cows loi­ter. But this week, the vil­lage in Ut­tar Pradesh state be­came a sym­bol of the deep­en­ing com­mu­nal di­vide in In­dia as some Hindu men from the area com­plained they had seen a group of Mus­lims slaugh­ter­ing cows in a mango or­chard a cou­ple of miles away.

That in­fu­ri­ated Hin­dus, who re­gard the cow as a sa­cred an­i­mal. Anger against Mus­lims turned into out­rage that po­lice had not stopped an il­le­gal prac­tise, and a Hindu mob blocked a high­way, threw stones, burned ve­hi­cles and even­tu­ally two peo­ple were shot and killed - in­clud­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer.

The events throw a spot­light on the re­li­gious strains in places like Nayabans since Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s Hindu na­tion­al­ist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the na­tional level in 2014 and in Ut­tar Pradesh in 2017. Ten­sions are ratch­et­ing up ahead of the next gen­eral elec­tion, due to be held by May.

The BJP said it was “bizarre” to as­sume the party would ben­e­fit from any re­li­gious dishar­mony, dis­miss­ing sug­ges­tions that its sup­port­ers were largely re­spon­si­ble for the ten­sions. “In a large coun­try like In­dia no­body can en­sure that noth­ing will go wrong, but it’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to main­tain law and or­der and we un­der­stand that,” party spokesman Gopal Kr­ishna Agar­wal said. “But peo­ple are try­ing to politi­cize these is­sues.”

Nayabans, just about three hour’s drive from Delhi, has about 400 Mus­lims out of a pop­u­la­tion of 4,000, the rest are Hindu. Re­la­tions be­tween the com­mu­ni­ties be­gan de­te­ri­o­rat­ing around the Mus­lim holy month of Ra­madan last year when Hin­dus in the vil­lage de­manded that loud­speak­ers used to call for prayer at a makeshift mosque be re­moved, lo­cal Mus­lims said. “For 40 years mikes were used in the mosque, calls for prayer were made five times a day, but no one ob­jected,” said Waseem Khan, a 28-yearold Mus­lim com­mu­nity leader in Nayabans.

“We re­sisted ini­tially but then we thought it’s bet­ter to live in peace then cre­ate a dis­pute over a mike,” he said. “We don’t want to give them a chance to fan com­mu­nal ten­sions.” Reuters spoke with more than a dozen Mus­lims from the vil­lage but ex­cept for Khan, no one else wanted to be named for fear of an­ger­ing the Hindu pop­u­la­tion.

Sev­eral among a group of Mus­lim women and girls stand­ing out­side the mosque said they have been liv­ing in fear since the BJP came to power in the state in 2017.

They said that Hindu groups now hold provoca­tive pro­ces­sions through the vil­lage dur­ing ev­ery Hindu fes­ti­val, loud­speak­ers blar­ing, some­thing that used to hap­pen rarely be­fore. They said they felt “ter­ror­ized” by Hindu ac­tivists. “While pass­ing through our ar­eas dur­ing their re­li­gious ral­lies, they chant ‘Pak­istan murd­abad’ (down with Pak­istan) as if we have some con­nec­tion to Pak­istan just be­cause we are Mus­lims,” Khan said.

Hindu priest CM

The sub­con­ti­nent was di­vided into Mus­lim Pak­istan and Hindu-ma­jor­ity In­dia at the time of in­de­pen­dence from British colo­nial rule in 1947.

Dur­ing the vi­o­lence on Mon­day, many Mus­lims in Nayabans locked them­selves in their homes fear­ing at­tacks. Some who had at­tended a three-day Mus­lim re­li­gious con­gre­ga­tion some miles away stayed out­side the area that night to avoid mak­ing them­selves tar­gets for the mob. Mus­lim vil­lagers say they are par­tic­u­larly fear­ful of the top elected of­fi­cial in Ut­tar Pradesh, Chief Min­is­ter Yogi Adityanath, who is a Hindu priest and se­nior BJP fig­ure. Hindu hard­lin­ers started as­sert­ing them­selves more in the vil­lage af­ter he was elected, they say. Ut­tar Pradesh sends 80 law­mak­ers to the lower house of par­lia­ment, the largest of any state in the coun­try. Con­sid­ered the county’s po­lit­i­cal cru­cible, it has also been the scene for spi­ralling Hindu-Mus­lim ten­sions. Adityanath said the lead up to the ri­ot­ing in Nayabans was a “big con­spir­acy”, but did not elab­o­rate. In the only state­ment from his of­fice on the in­ci­dent, Adityanath or­dered po­lice to ar­rest those di­rectly or in­di­rectly in­volved in the slaugh­ter of cows and made no men­tion of the death of the po­lice in­spec­tor.


JODH­PUR: In­dian women stand in queue to cast their vote at a lo­cal polling sta­tion dur­ing Ra­jasthan’s Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly elec­tion, in Jodh­pur. The In­dian state of Ra­jasthan voted on Fri­day in an elec­tion that is a key test for Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi.

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