Hindu man killed by Muslim attackers as religious tensions boil in India
Tensions were high in India’s western Udaipur city Wednesday, a day after police arrested two Muslim men accused of slitting a Hindu tailor’s throat in a brutal attack that highlights a dramatic escalation of communal violence in a country riven by deep religious polarization.
The victim, Kanhaiya Lal, was stabbed multiple times Tuesday inside his tailoring shop by two cleaver-wielding men who filmed the attack and posted it online, police said, warning that the incident could inflame religious tensions and lead to violence. The video showed the tailor taking measurements of one assailant before he attacks Lal from behind and stabs at his throat with a cleaver.
TV reports aired video of Lal lying on the ground with his throat slit. The two men later claimed responsibility for the killing in another video and accused Lal of blasphemy. They also threatened to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the same manner, brandishing the blood-stained weapons they used to attack Lal.
Local media reported that the victim had purportedly shared a social media post supporting a suspended spokesperson for Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party who made controversial remarks about the Prophet Muhammad last month.
The killing comes after months of rising tensions between Hindus and Muslims, as well as a spate of attacks by Hindu nationalists on minority groups — especially Muslims — who have been targeted for their food, clothing style, interfaith marriages and other reasons. More recently, Muslim homes have also been demolished using bulldozers in some Indian states, in what critics call a growing pattern of “bulldozer justice” against the minority group.
These tensions escalated in May when two spokespeople from Modi’s party made speculative remarks that were seen as insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha. Both were later suspended by Modi’s party after it led to severe diplomatic backlash for India from many Muslim-dominated countries. The controversy also led to protests in India that turned violent in some places after demonstrators pelted police with stones. At least two people were killed.
India’s hard-line Hindu nationalists have long espoused an anti-Muslim stance, but attacks against the minority community have been more frequent.
Experts worry that the latest incident could worsen India’s religious fault lines, which critics say have deepened since Modi came to power in 2014.
“This gruesome incident could lead to escalated religious tensions across India, especially with the ruling party espousing a very strident Hindu majoritarian cause,” said Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, a public policy think tank.
“It is unlikely that this government or leadership would go out of its way to tell supporters to not get provoked, to urge for calm and peace,” he said.
Attacks on people accused of blasphemy are common in neighboring Muslim-majority countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan. But in India, where religious tensions often boil over into sporadic riots and deadly protests, brutal killings of this nature are rare.
Doubts about India’s future as a secular state and liberal democracy grow amid rights abuses, shrinking civil liberties and religious intolerance.
In May, a Hindu man in the southern city of Hyderabad was stabbed to death in public by his Muslim wife’s relatives. Last year, a Muslim man was beheaded by members of a vigilante group on orders of his girlfriend’s Hindu family because they didn’t approve of their interfaith marriage. In Rajasthan state in 2017, a Hindu man brutally killed a Muslim laborer and shared a video of the victim being hacked to death and then set on fire.
Police said both attackers were arrested within hours of Lal’s death, but in a bid to calm frayed nerves in parts of the city, authorities suspended internet services in Rajasthan state and banned large gatherings. Authorities also sent additional police to the city to counter any religious unrest.
India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has dispatched a team of its anti-terror agency to Rajasthan to investigate whether the killing had any links to terrorist groups. So far, the state police have not charged the two arrested men with terrorism.
Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, a key Muslim body, condemned the killing in a statement and called it “barbaric.”
For centuries, the emperor Aurangzeb remained relegated to India’s history books, but his name is now being used in a way that alarms Muslims.
“There is no room for justification of violence in Islam,” it said.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot promised a speedy investigation. He said the attackers would be punished and urged people not to share the video on social media because of its highly inflammatory content.
“I again appeal to all to maintain peace,” Gehlot said Tuesday in a tweet.
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