How A Facebook Post Led To Rising Sectarian Violence In India

Religious tensions in India have increased as a result of Modi’s pursuit of a “Hindu first” agenda

Two weeks before a Hindu tailor in India was hacked to death by two Muslim men who filmed the act, he was briefly detained by police after a rival tailor accused him of an “inflammatory” Facebook post on Prophet Mohammad.

Kanhaiyalal Teli’s son revealed to Reuters that his father had shared a Facebook post in support of a now-suspended spokesperson for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, whose offensive comments about the Prophet during a television debate had sparked outrage across the nation and the world in June.

“My father was a very good man, he never had any issues with anyone,” Teli’s 20-year-old son Yash, his head shaven as per Hindu custom after a parent dies, told Reuters. “Just a repost of a post on Facebook, and they killed him. Before this, Hindus and Muslims lived together peacefully in this area.”

In India, a nation with a horrifying history of Hindu-Muslim bloodshed, religious tensions have increased as a result of Modi’s pursuit of a “Hindu first” agenda since taking office in 2014. Numerous Muslims, who make up 13% of the 1.3 billion people in the world, lament how marginalised they feel as a result of Modi’s policies.

The perpetrators’ video of Teli’s murder in the northwest Indian city of Udaipur went viral on social media, upsetting many in the nation with a Hindu majority. Local officials have banned big gatherings for a month and halted internet access out of concern for a resurgence of intergroup violence.

A few days after being freed from detention, Teli told the police that he was afraid for his life because some persons were scouting out his shop.

In a police complaint seen by Reuters, he said he was aware that his photo had gone viral in Muslim community WhatsApp groups and that he be provided protection.

A police officer said on condition of anonymity two constables were deployed in the area after the complaint but they “got relaxed” when Teli did not open his shop for some days.

The tailor reopened his shop at the weekend, his son said, and was killed on Tuesday.

Two Muslim men, who brandished a meat cleaver while claiming responsibility for slaughtering Teli and threatening Modi with the same fate, have been arrested and are facing terrorism charges, police have said. They worked in Udaipur but Teli did not know them, his son said.

Nevertheless, the video showed he seemed unsuspicious as he used a tape to measure the chest of a bearded man just before he was attacked.

‘Loose Tongue

In unusually strong comments, India’s Supreme Court said on Friday that spokesperson Nupur Sharma of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was “single-handedly responsible” for creating a situation that led to the killing.

“She and her loose tongue has set the entire country on fire,” Justice Surya Kant said, dismissing a petition by Sharma to combine police complaints filed against her across the country into one. “Her outburst is responsible for the unfortunate incident in Udaipur.”

Political analysts and opposition parties say tensions between the two communities are beginning to bubble over under the eight-year rule of Modi and the BJP.

The party says it works for all but does not believe in appeasing any community for votes. It has asked people to keep calm following the Udaipur incident.

Teli was reported to police by Muslim tailor Nazim Ahmed on June 11 in a complaint, seen by Reuters, which said: “He has posted an indecent comment on the character of our Prophet due to which there is anger in our Muslim society. Legal action should be taken against the said culprit” for his “inflammatory post”.

Reuters could not contact Ahmed as his phone was switched off. His shop, opposite Teli’s, was closed.

Police have barricaded the Muslim neighbourhood where Ahmed lives and prevented journalists from approaching his family.

Opposition politicians have condemned Teli’s murder and sought swift justice, but they also say the BJP hurt Muslim sentiment by failing to push for legal action against its spokesperson.

Alka Lamba of the main opposition Congress party, which rules Rajasthan state where Udaipur is located, said “eight years of BJP rule have fed and sustained the monster of communalism”. Two BJP spokespeople did not answer their phones.

Teli’s wife Yashoda, her face partially veiled, blamed the police for her husband’s death.

“Had the police helped us he would have been alive,” she said. “He had to reopen the shop because we were running out of savings. My husband was friends with everyone, including Nazim, so somewhere in his mind he was not that worried.” – Reuters

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