Bureau Report + Agencies
NEW DELHI/ LUCKNOW/ SRINAGAR: Indian police shot dead two demonstrators on Friday during street protests around the country sparked by a ruling party official’s remarks about the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him/ PBUH), an officer told AFP Saturday.
“Police were forced to open fire to disperse protesters and bullets hit some of them, resulting in the death of two,” a police officer from the eastern city of Ranchi told media, asking for anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Media earlier reported that police confronted stone-throwing crowds in at least two Indian cities on Friday as crowds protested in many areas of the country over derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) made by two former members of the ruling party.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has faced a backlash from Muslims at home and abroad, including from a number of Gulf countries, after two officials from his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) commented in late May and earlier this month on the prophet’s private life.
One of them, spokeswoman Nupur Sharma, has been suspended and the other official has been expelled by the party.
That has not calmed anger in the latest instance of what some in the minority Muslim community see as increased pressure under the rule of the Hindu nationalist BJP on issues ranging from freedom of worship to the wearing of hijab head scarves.
In the Uttar Pradesh city of Prayagraj, riot police with shields charged and fired tear gas at crowds on Friday in a street strewn with broken bricks and stones, video footage from ANI showed.
A total of 109 people have been arrested from different districts of Uttar Pradesh by the police for their alleged role in the protests today, said Prashant Kumar, a senior Uttar Pradesh police official.
In Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi, protesters hurled stones at police and injured some officers, senior police official Anis Gupta told Reuters by phone, adding the situation was now under control.
Protests in other cities and town remained peaceful.
In the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir, small groups gathered in dozens of locations, some of them raising slogans against the fired BJP officials.
Authorities in the restive territory, which is also claimed by neighboring Pakistan, cut off mobile Internet connections to forestall any violence, a police official said.
In Ahmedabad, the main city in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, protesters including children marched holding posters of the two BJP officials and calling for police to arrest Sharma.
Sharma was not available for comment. She said last week that she did not intend to hurt anyone’s religious feelings.
Police in New Delhi said on Thursday said they have filed a complaint against Sharma and others for “inciting people on divisive lines” on social media.
The BJP has instructed officials to be “extremely cautious” when talking about religion on public platforms and has said it does not promote insults against any sect or religion.