Mumbai/Lucknow, June 14 (Reuters) – Leaders of prominent Islamic groups and mosques in India appealed to fellow Muslims on Monday to suspend plans for protests against derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammad made by two members of the ruling Hindu nationalist party.
The message to eschew big gatherings was circulated after demonstrations took a violent turn last week, leading to the death of two Muslim teenagers and injuries to more than 30 people, including police.
“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 Malik Aslam, a senior member of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, a Muslim organisation that operates in several Indian states.
In late May and early this month, two senior spokespersons for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)made remarks that offended Muslims, in one case in a television debate and in the other on social media.
The party suspended both of them and said it condemned any insult towards any religion. Indian police have also filed official complaints against the two, a step that can lead to a formal investigation, but that did not stop angry Muslims taking to the streets in protest over the remarks.
Police said they arrested at least 400 suspected rioters during unrest in several states, curfews were imposed and internet services were suspended in some places.
Modi has not commented on the anti-Islam remarks even as condemnation grew abroad. Countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Iran – all important trade partners for India – have lodged diplomatic protests.
Modi hasplayed down his roots in a powerful Hindu nationalist group to which his party is affiliated since he came to power in 2014, but many minority Muslims in India have been questioning their place in society under BJP rule.
Critics say his BJP has pursued a confrontational line, promoting the idea that India is a Hindu nation and rounding on “anti-national” opponents. Many Muslims see as this as an attempt to marginalise their community, which comprises 13% of India’s 1.35 billion population.
Some state governments have also been accused by some Muslim and human rights groups of demolishing the houses of Muslims suspected to be involved in violence, without due process.
The district development authority in Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagrajregion on Sunday demolished the home of Muslim political activist and businessman Mohammad Javed. It said parts of the building had been illegally constructed and that Javed had not appeared for hearings on the issue in May.
K.K. Roy, Javed’s lawyer, said the family only received a copy of the notice late on Friday, two days before the demolition, and that the building was owned by Javed’s wife and not him.
“The action taken by the administration cannot be justified. It is illegal and unconstitutional,” Roy said, adding that the family might take the case to India’s Supreme Court.
Senior government officials in Prayagraj did not respond to calls and messages from Reuters seeking comment.