Protests in Indian cities after Muslim man beaten to death

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People in Ahmedabad city protest against the lynching of a Tabrez Ansari [Amit Dave/Reuters]

Protests were held in several Indian cities on Wednesday following the lynching of a Muslim man last week by a Hindu pack that suspected he was a thief.

Increasing anger about the killing in Jharkhand prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make his first comments on the matter on Wednesday, telling the upper house of parliament he was "pained" to hear about it and calling for "the strictest possible punishment to the accused".

Mobile phone videos shared on local television channels showed 24-year-old Tabrez Ansari tied to a pole and begging for mercy as some men beat him with sticks and forced him to chant "Jai Shri Ram" (Hail Lord Ram), a slogan increasingly used by Hindu far-right groups.

Ansari was caught by a group of villagers who suspected he was a thief in the Seraikela-Kharsawan area of Jharkhand on June 18, said Avinash Kumar, a deputy superintendent of police in the area.

Eleven villagers have been arrested and a special investigation team set up to probe the matter, Kumar said.

Villagers called the police and lodged a case against Ansari, and police took him to the hospital, but Ansari died due to his injuries while in custody four days later, Kumar said. Two police officers from the area have been suspended, police told local media.

Indian local media reports said Ansari's wife has accused police of deliberately taking him to jail first – instead of a hospital – despite the critical injuries he suffered.

'No more lynching'

Dozens of people gathered in New Delhi carrying placards calling for justice for Ansari's killing. In Gujarat and West Bengal, hundreds took to the streets carrying posters that read 'No more lynching in the name of religion'.

India protest against lynchings A woman holds a placard during a protest in Kolkata [Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters]

Protests were planned in about 50 cities. It wasn’t immediately clear how many took place.

Opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi termed the lynching a "blot on humanity".

Hate crimes against minorities have spiked in India since Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.

Dozens of Muslim men have been attacked or lynched by Hindu mobs since then, many on suspicion of slaughtering cows, which are considered holy in the Hindu religion.

Last year, the Supreme Court condemned "horrendous acts" of mob violence and asked the government to enact a new law to deal with an increase in incidents of lynchings.

Two days after Ansari’s killing, a Muslim religious school teacher in West Bengal's Kolkata alleged he'd been pushed off a moving train when he refused to chant "Jai Shri Ram" as some Hindu men in the train demanded.

Many people took to social media to condemn the BJP-led government in Jharkhand state, where civil society groups have recorded at least 13 lynchings of minorities, mainly Muslims, in the past three years.

"An environment has been created across the country that enables and encourages this kind of violence," said Harsh Mander, a founding member of Karwan-e-Mohabbat ("a caravan of love"), a solidarity campaign for victims hit by hate violence, including lynchings.

"For perpetrators, such attacks are an act of heroism. Ansari was not only lynched by a mob, there was an obvious religious hatred in the manner it was done by asking him to shout Hindu slogans," Mandar told Al Jazeera in a previous interview.

The United States last week released an annual report on international religious freedoms that said religious intolerance was increasing in India and extremist narratives had "facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities."

India rejected the report saying it saw "no locus standi for a foreign government to pronounce on the state of our citizens' constitutionally-protected rights."

"Because he was a Muslim he was beaten so brutally," Ansari’s wife Shaishta Ansari told the television channel NDTV.

"My husband was my only support. Who will I live for now? I want justice."

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SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Original Article

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