Scores arrested as large-scale clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Gujarat states, leave two people dead, many wounded and properties burned or looted.
Tense calm has prevailed after two days of religious violence in four Indian states that began during Hindu festivities, in which at least two people were killed, according to local media.
Saturday's shaky calm came after scores of people were arrested following clashes between Hindus and Muslims in the states of Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Gujarat on Thursday and Friday during the Hindu festival of Ram Navmi which commemorates the birth of the Hindu deity Rama.
Deaths were reported in West Bengal and Maharashtra states, and several injuries were reported in other states.
The majority of these incidents occurred while Hindu groups were marching through Muslim-majority areas accompanied by DJ music, shouting provocative slogans, brandishing weapons and massing in front of mosques.
In Howrah city in the eastern state of West Bengal, violence broke out between Hindu and Muslim groups on Thursday night, as the Ram Navami procession passed through Muslim minority community areas.
Several vehicles were set on fire and shops were attacked, resulting in numerous injuries during the sporadic clashes between the two groups that lasted until Friday.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee blamed the Hindu far-right and ruling Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] for orchestrating the communal agitation and targeting one "minority community" [Muslims] with the support of "goons," India Today reported.
"They are the enemies of the people of the country," she was quoted as saying by the news daily.
She claimed that "they [the attackers] were hired by the BJP and were carrying guns and petrol bombs. They first attacked people from the minority communities."
However, Suvendu Adhikari, a senior BJP leader, accused the police of being a "silent spectator."
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Hindu supremacists in India are celebrating Hindu festival ‘Ram Navami’ by burning down mosques! pic.twitter.com/CFoqtkcwyP— Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) April 1, 2023
BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar claimed the violence was "orchestrated" by Banerjee to "retain her Muslim votes."
On Saturday, Howrah Commissioner of Police Praveen Tripathi told a news conference that 38 people have been arrested for violent clashes in the city.
In another eastern state, Bihar, police arrested 45 people for arson and violence.
In Biharsharif, a town in Bihar's Nalanda district, Hindu mobs reportedly attacked and set a mosque on fire.
Over 100 more were also arrested in different states for their alleged links with the violent incidents.
India also witnessed widespread religious clashes during last year's Ram Navami celebrations.
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Outside Mathura’s Jama Masjid, ‘celebrations’ of #RamaNavami resulted in Hindu zealots climbing atop the boundary of the mosque with the Bhagwa Flag. pic.twitter.com/EJfRRKajeB— Tarushi Aswani (@tarushi_aswani) March 30, 2023
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party and allies are accused by critics and opposition leaders of marginalising the country's Muslims, but the party strongly denies the claim and says it treats people of all religions equally.
Since Modi came to power in 2014 in the nation where 80 percent population is Hindu, campaigners say persecution and hate speech have accelerated against religious minorities, especially India's 14 percent Muslim minority.
Critics say Modi has failed to intervene and stop rising incidents of attacks on minorities, misuse of religion by Hindu hardliners, and intolerance against dissent in the country.
Hindu monks known for their incendiary anti-Muslim rhetoric have been calling for Rohingya-type ethnic cleansing of Indian Muslims.
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#Thread on anti-Muslim violence in the last 24 hours and how the anti-Muslim violence broke out across India in the name of the Shobha Yatra. The minor incidents that earlier used to happen have now turned into a considerable amount of arson and violence against Muslims.+— Meer Faisal (@meerfaisal01) March 30, 2023