MUMBAI (REUTERS) – Leaders of prominent Islamic groups and mosques in India appealed to fellow Muslims on Monday (June 13) to suspend plans for protests against derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad made by two members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party.
The message to avoid big gatherings was circulated after demonstrations took a violent turn last week, leaving two Muslim teenagers dead and over 30 people – including police – injured.
“It is the duty of every Muslim to stand together when anyone belittles Islam, but at the same time, it is critical to maintain peace,” said Mr Malik Aslam, a senior member of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, a Muslim organisation that operates in several Indian states.
Early this month, two senior members of Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made remarks that offended Muslims.
A party spokeswoman made the offending comment in a television debate and a party spokesman on social media.
The party suspended both of them and said it denounced any insult towards any religion. Police have also filed cases against the two party functionaries, but that did not stop enraged Muslims taking to the streets in protest.
Police arrested at least 400 suspected rioters during unrest in several states, and curfews were imposed, with Internet services suspended in some places.
Many Muslims in India have been questioning their place in society since Mr Modi came to power in 2014, pointing to his roots in a powerful Hindu nationalist group to which his party is affiliated.
Critics say his BJP has pursued a confrontational line, promoting the idea that India is a Hindu nation and dubbing its opponents “anti-national”, which many Muslims see as an attempt to marginalise the community that makes up 13 per cent of India’s billion-plus population.
Authorities in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh on Sunday demolished the home of a Muslim man linked to the riots, drawing condemnation of the BJP-led state government from constitutional experts and rights groups.
Muslims and rights groups interpreted the destruction of the house as punishment for the riots, but state authorities said it was because it was illegally built on public land.
“We are not demolishing houses to stop Muslims from protesting as they have all the right to take to the streets,” an aide to the state’s hardline Hindu leader told Reuters.
Mr Modi has not commented on the anti-Islam remarks that sparked the protests even as condemnation grew abroad.
Countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Iran – important trade partners for India – have lodged diplomatic protests.