Protests across India after Friday prayers

Published on Jun 11, 2022 12:30 AM IST

Protests by Muslims against controversial comments on Prophet Mohammed made by former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal broke out across several parts of the country after Friday prayers, prompting arrests of dozens of people, officials said.

 (ANI)
(ANI)
By, New Delhi/lucknow/ranchi/kolkata

Protests by Muslims against controversial comments on Prophet Mohammed made by former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal broke out across several parts of the country after Friday prayers, prompting arrests of dozens of people, officials said.

While the demonstrations were largely peaceful in most places, there was stone-pelting and arson in pockets of Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, which left at least 20 people injured, mostly security personnel. To control the violence in these places, police resorted to lathicharge, used tear gas shells, and fired in the air.

Following remonstrations by several Muslim-majority nations from West Asia and Southeast Asia, Sharma was suspended and Jindal expelled by the BJP earlier this week. The Indian government said the remarks by individuals denigrating the religious personality “do not, in any manner, reflect the views of the government of India”.

On Friday, protests against the remarks were reported from Jammu and Kashmir to Karnataka.

In Delhi, hundreds of protesters gathered at Jama Masjid in Chandni Chowk in a demonstration that lasted under an hour. Deputy commissioner of police (central) Shweta Chauhan said: “As soon as the prayers finished and people came out to the stairs, about 100-150 of them took out placards and started raising slogans. Eventually, more people joined them and over 300 people started protesting. Within 10-15 minutes, we dispersed the crowd and ensured that transportation in the area was regularised. The situation was contained and completely peaceful in no time.”

Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari distanced himself from the demonstration, saying “nobody knows who the protesters are”, and demanded action against them.

In Srinagar, shops and business establishments remained closed in an effort to maintain law and order.

In Bihar’s Bhagalpur, peaceful protests at Tatarpur Bazar and Shah Market affected traffic, with large crowds carrying placards and shouting slogans against Sharma and Jindal. The old city of Hyderabad, too, witnessed massive protests after the culmination of Friday prayers at the historic Mecca Masjid near Charminar. The police, however, put up barricades at all crucial junctions to prevent the protesters from moving ahead.

In Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Karnataka, multiple districts saw protests, with people asking for legal action against Sharma and Jindal.

However, in Jammu’s Bhaderwah town of Doda district, which also reported unrest on Thursday, stones were pelted by a group of 150 people on Friday morning, despite a curfew being in place. Senior police officials said one CRPF jawan was injured in the violence. “There was an incident of stone pelting by about 100-150 people outside Jamia Masjid in Bhaderwah town on Friday morning,” a police officer said, asking not to be named. By evening, officials said the situation was brought under control.

Director general of police (DGP) Dilbag Singh said: “Wrong utterances should be avoided because they hurt the sentiments of the people. Curfew was imposed in Bhaderwah as a precautionary measure. I urge the people to behave responsibly and assure them that the guilty will not be allowed to go scot-free but it is not wise to get carried away by such elements.”

Protests in Prayagraj turned violent on Friday morning, with over a dozen police officials, including the inspector general of police (Prayagraj range), Rakesh Kumar Singh, suffering injuries.

Two Rapid Action Force personnel received injuries and were rushed to a hospital for treatment in the clashes that erupted in the city’s Atala area. After the Friday namaz, protesters shouted slogans, and some resorted to stone-pelting when the police tried to disperse them. Protesters torched a security truck, and set motorcycles and a rickshaw on fire as officials called for additional forces to control the situation by afternoon. While stone-pelting lasted for at least three hours, police and district officials said that they restored a sense of calm by evening. Prayagraj district magistrate Sanjay Khatri said: “The situation is now under control and additional force is being called from the neighbouring districts as well.”

Overall in Uttar Pradesh, director general of police DS Chauhan said trouble was primarily reported from four districts — Prayagraj, Saharanpur, Moradabad and Firozabad. A total of 136 people were arrested across the state for disturbing communal harmony, additional director general of police (law and order) Prashant Kumar said. He said 45 people were arrested from Saharanpur, 37 from Prayagraj, 20 from Hathras, 23 from Ambedkarnagar, seven from Moradabad and four from Firozabad.

In Saharanpur, protesters marched towards the city’s Ghantaghar area after offering namaz at Jama Masjid around 1.30pm, demanding Sharma’s arrest. “A group of protesters gathered and engaged in sloganeering and were dispersed by using mild force,” said Saharanpur SSP Akash Tomar. In most other parts of UP, such as Lucknow, Kanpur and Varanasi, there were protests and sloganeering, but there was no violence. Markets in some parts of Varanasi, Barabanki, Unnao, Pilibhit, Bijnor and Firozabad were closed.

In West Bengal, Muslims protesting against the remarks clashed with police at several locations in the Howrah district after Friday prayers, officials said. Traffic kiosks and several police vehicles were set ablaze at different locations. Police resorted to lathicharge and lobbed teargas shells in Uluberia, Dhulagarh, Bauria, Panchla, Salap and Chengail areas of Howrah when protesters refused to disperse and placed burning car tyres on several roads to stop movement of vehicles. Mobile internet was suspended till 6am on June 13, and about 20 local and long-distance trains were affected in Howrah.

Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar sought a report from the chief secretary. “While appealing for peace, WB Guv Shri Jagdeep Dhankhar has sought urgent personal update from CS @chief_west by 10 PM today over worsening law & order situation in state since yesterday. Expect CM Smt. Mamata Banerjee to sternly warn law violators - they will not be spared,” Dhankhar tweeted.

On Thursday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said: “I could have used force to remove the blockades but I appeal to you with folded hands not to cause trouble for your fellow citizens… If you want to protest, lodge complaints against her (Sharma) at every police station in Bengal. Demand Narendra Modi’s resignation. But do it peacefully.”

In Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi, 13 people were injured in violence that erupted at the centrally located Daily Market on Mahatma Gandhi Road, officials said. At 2pm on Friday, sensing trouble, the Ranchi Police conducted a flag march in the area, but an hour later, after prayers at a nearby mosque, a crowd gathered near Firayalal Chowk, officials said. Police officials said there was an attempt to disperse the crowd since there was no permission for the gathering.

Several vehicles, including four-wheelers and motorbikes, parked on the main road were damaged. The police resorted to firing in the air to manage the situation. “We are camping along with other senior officers on ground. Situation is tense but under control,” said Anish Gupta, deputy inspector general, Ranchi. The district administration clamped prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC in parts of the city and mobile internet was suspended.

Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren called for peace. “We are going through testing times. I have faith in people of Jharkhand. There are provisions for punishment in law and Constitution for those that commit crime. I appeal to people not to take law in their hands,” Soren said.

BJP legislature party leader Babulal Marandi said: “Such large-scale violence happened after police conducted flag march in the area. Has the government intelligence completely failed?”

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