New Delhi, India – Two teenagers have been killed in violence in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand as police crack down on protests that have erupted across the country over derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad from two leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party.
The families of Mudasir, 14, and Sahil Ansari, 19, confirmed the deaths to Al Jazeera, alleging police used disproportionate force against protesters who staged a march in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, after Friday prayers in congregation demanding arrest. of two BJP leaders.
Dozens of protesters were injured after protests turned violent. A senior Ranchi police officer was also injured, according to local media. A witness told Al Jazeera that the situation worsened after Hindus staged counter-protests.
Several calls to Ranchi police went unanswered. We will update the story after we get the response from the police.
The BJP suspended its spokesperson Nupur Sharma for making insulting remarks against the Prophet of Islam and expelled another leader, Naveen Jindal, for his anti-Islam tweet after a diplomatic backlash from Muslim countries. The Hindu Nationalist Party said the offensive remarks did not reflect the government’s position and that the comments were made by “fringe elements”.
Mudasir was shot in the head by police and he succumbed to his injuries at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences, his uncle Shahid Ayyubi told Al Jazeera.
Sahil’s brother Faizan said he was shot in the back as he was returning home from prayers. “The bullet ruptured his kidney and he died in hospital after some time,” Faizan told Al Jazeera, adding that his brother was not even part of the protests. Sahil ran a battery repair shop in town.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify the family’s claims. However, a local news agency confirmed that they died of gunshot wounds.
A Ranchi police officer told AFP news agency that “police were forced to open fire to disperse the protesters…resulting in the death of two people”.
“The job of the police is to protect, not to shoot”
The bodies of Mudasir and Sahil were handed over to the families late at night as the administration imposed curfew-like restrictions, including suspending mobile internet services in the city, allegedly as a safety measure.
“Mudasir was a child, barely 14, waiting for his matric exam result,” Ayyubi said, his voice cracking. “He participated in the protests and now he is no longer between us. He was the only child of his parents. We are shocked.
The family demanded that the government put “the murderers of Mudasir in prison and punish them severely”.
Ayyubi blamed the administration for the violence, saying the police had “mishandled” the situation. “There are a thousand ways to control civilian protests like water cannons, rubber bullets, aerial gunfire but they shoot directly at the head and body,” he said.
Irfan Ansari, a Muslim congressman who is part of the ruling coalition in the state, also criticized the government for the way the protests were handled. “The job of the police is to protect, not to shoot,” he said in a Hindi tweet questioning the city’s police chief’s working style.
Ansari demanded compensation of five million rupees ($64,000) and government employment each for the families of the deceased.
Al Jazeera attempted to call Ranchi City Police Superintendent Anshuman Kumar to get the police response, but the calls went unanswered.
Friday’s protests against the remarks against the Prophet were seen in a number of cities and states including the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra and the capital New Delhi. The protests in India coincided with huge demonstrations in South Asia over comments seen as insulting to the Islamic prophet and his wife Aisha.
The right-wing party, which has denounced insults from religious figures, also told its spokespersons to be ‘extremely careful’ about religious issues in prime-time ‘debates’ on Indian news channels .
New Delhi police on Thursday filed complaints against the two BJP members and others – including a Muslim parliamentarian and journalist – on “incitement to hatred” and other charges.
“Cornered and traumatized”
Demonstrations turned violent in several locations in Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous state – as police used force to quell protests. In Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, videos that went viral on social media showed police beating protesters with batons while arresting a number of them. Similar scenes were reported in the cities of Moradabad and Saharanpur where Muslims took to the streets to demand the arrest of Sharma and Jindal.
State police arrested more than 200 people, including Muslim community activists.
Data shared by police with Al Jazeera shows that 48 people were arrested in Saharanpur, 68 in Prayagraj, 50 in Hathras, 25 in Moradabad, eight in Ferozabad and 28 in Ambedkarnagar.
Police in Prayagraj, formerly known as Allahabad, conducted nighttime raids on student leader Afreen Fatima’s home, arresting her father Mohammad Javed, mother and sister.
“A group of policemen first came around 8:30 p.m. and took my father away, then they arrived at 11:30 p.m. and arrested my mother and my sister. The third time they came at 2:30 a.m. to arrest me but we resisted and since then the police have cordoned off our house,” Fatima told Al Jazeera by phone.
“We are only women and children at home. We feel stuck and traumatized. The police asked us to keep the house locked.
Fatima said police accused her father of being the “mastermind of the protests in the city”, a charge she denied. “My father did not take part in the protests but he is active in civil society and a prominent Muslim voice in the city and that is why he is being targeted.”
She said the police did not tell them where they took her parents and sister. “I have no idea where my father, my mother and my sister are. I worry about their safety. My father is diabetic and he needs an insulin injection every night.
Muslim community leaders have denounced the “unbridled” use of force by police in Ranchi and Uttar Pradesh.
SQR Ilyas, chairman of the Welfare Party of India, said the police action is “unwarranted as protests are a democratic right of the people”.
He said that Muslims took to the streets because they were hurt by the insults against the Prophet.
“Instead of tackling the cause and arresting the culprits, the police resorted to killing, arresting and bulldozing the homes of poor Muslims,” Ilyas said, questioning the PM’s silence. Minister Narendra Modi on the issue.
However, the ruling BJP justified the detentions as party spokesman Alok Vats told Al Jazeera that protesters resorted to stone throwing.
“Everyone has the right to protest, but you can’t throw stones,” he said, urging Muslims to be patient and let the law take its course.