Police accused of beating Muslim men for throwing stones; Amnesty slams 'disrespect' for law
NEW DELHI -- A video circulating in India showing Muslim men being flogged by what appear to be plain-clothes police officers has prompted condemnation from rights groups and spotlighted anew the country's worsening religious tensions.
The footage, which appeared last week and spread quickly online, is believed to have been captured in the western state of Gujarat and shows a series of men being held against an electricity pole and beaten with a stick. A crowd is shown cheering and chanting slogans. One of the men doing the beating has what looks to be a gun holster; uniformed officers and a police van can be seen nearby in some shots.
Nikkei Asia could not independently confirm the origin or veracity of the video. The clip has, however, drawn global attention, with Amnesty International calling the incident "a serious human rights violation" that shows "utter disrespect towards rule of law." Activists say the matter is part of a larger pattern of violence and discrimination against Muslims under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government, while authorities blame violence against Hindus for fanning the tensions.
The police have ordered an inquiry, local media reported. But Human Rights Watch, another prominent global group, noted this came "only following social media criticism of the video recordings."
"The authorities in several Indian states are carrying out violence against Muslims as a kind of summary punishment," Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW's South Asia director, said in a report. "Officials blatantly disregarding the rule of law are sending a message to the public that Muslims can be discriminated against and attacked."
The men who were flogged were accused of throwing stones at a Hindu festival, reports said. Local residents said many Muslims had objected to a Garba event -- a folk dance performed in October to honor a Hindu deity -- being held near a mosque. Activists told Nikkei Asia that the incident took place the day after clashes between Hindus and Muslims in the village of Undhela, in the Kheda district of Gujarat. The activists, who did not want to be named, said that there was an argument and that a mob threw rocks at the Garba venue.
The superintendent of police in Kheda, Rajesh Gadhiya, told Nikkei that the situation in the village was under control and that a total of 43 suspects had been identified and booked, along with another 150 who had yet to be identified, including some women.
The violence "also wounded several Hindus, two of them with serious injuries," he said.
The accused, including the unidentified suspects, face allegations ranging from attempted murder and rioting to unlawful assembly and malicious acts intended to insult religion or religious beliefs.
Regardless, critics say there was no excuse for police taking punishment into their own hands.
Prominent Muslim parliamentarian Asaduddin Owaisi suggested the Kheda incident was just one of many.
"Every day, there is more evidence of mass radicalization," he wrote on Twitter. "Floggings and mob violence by cops have become common. Targeted violence against Muslims is treated as 'justice.'"
Mujahid Nafees, convenor of the Minority Coordination Committee (MCC), a local rights group, said that they have sent a legal contempt notice to the police. The MCC hopes to initiate suitable action against the perpetrators of the flogging.
"It should be investigated properly and action should be taken against the officers who publicly humiliated the Muslims," Nafees said, adding that perceptions of minorities have been shaped in such a way that leads to intimidation and injustice.
In some parts of India, according to local media, right-wing Hindu groups have enforced identity card checks to ensure Muslims do not join celebrations. Some Hindu groups allege that Muslims come to such events to engage in "love jihad" -- a conspiracy theory that accuses Muslim men of seducing Hindu women to convert them to Islam.
"They want to create fear among Muslims and hate between two communities, but we will fight until we get justice,'' Nafees said.
As the controversy over the video rages, Majid Khan, an advocate in the Gujarat High Court, said there is an environment of fear among minorities, as police have detained people without first-hand information or warrants.
"The point is that police should not have taken the case in their hands," he said. "It was up to the court to decide."
(c) 2022, Nikkei Asia