Indian officials step up arrests, demolish houses to stop unrest over anti-Islam remarks
By Fayaz Bukhari and Subrata Nag Choudhury
SRINAGAR/KOLKATA, India (Reuters) -Authorities in India's Uttar Pradesh state have demolished the homes of several people accused of involvement in riots last week triggered by derogatory remarks made by ruling party figures about Islam's Prophet Mohammad, officials said on Sunday.
In Indian Kashmir, police arrested a youth for posting a video threatening to behead the ruling party's former spokeswoman who had made some of the remarks, officials said. The video, circulated on YouTube, has been withdrawn by authorities.
Muslims have taken to the streets across India in recent weeks to protest against the anti-Islamic comments by two members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Clashes have broken out between Muslims and Hindus and in some cases between protesters and police in several areas. Police in Uttar Pradesh arrested more than 300 people in connection with the unrest.
Some in India's minority Muslim community see the comments as the latest instance of pressure and humiliation under BJP rule on issues ranging from freedom of worship to the wearing of hijab head scarves.
The BJP has suspended its spokeswoman Nupur Sharma and expelled another leader, Naveen Kumar Jindal, for the comments, which have also caused a diplomatic row with several Muslim countries.
Police have filed cases against the two and the government has said the comments do not reflect its views.
Muslim groups have demanded their arrest, while some hardline Hindu groups label them as brave and nationalist politicians.
Over the weekend the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, Yogi Adityanath, ordered officials to demolish any illegal establishments and homes of people accused of involvement in riots there last week, the BJP's state spokesperson said.
The house of an alleged mastermind of the riots, whose daughter is a female Muslim rights activist, was demolished amid a heavy police presence on Sunday. Properties of two more people accused of throwing stones after Friday prayers were also demolished in the state.
Mrityunjay Kumar, Adityanath's media adviser, tweeted a photo of a bulldozer demolishing a building and said "Unruly elements remember, every Friday is followed by a Saturday."
Opposition leaders said Adityanath's government was pursuing an unconstitutional method to silence protesters.
On Sunday, Jindal said his family faced continuous threats and some of his followers said a crude bomb was defused near his residence in capital New Delhi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has so far not commented on the communal unrest.
In the eastern state of West Bengal, authorities enforced an emergency law prohibiting public gatherings in the industrial district of Howrah until June 16.
BJP's West Bengal president on Sunday staged a sit-in protest and accused neighbouring Bangladesh, a mainly Muslim nation, of inciting violence in the state.
Last week countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Iran - which are key trade partners of India - lodged diplomatic protests to demand an apology from Modi's government for the comments.
(Additional reporting by Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneswar, Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow; Writing by Neha Arora, Rupam Jain; Editing by Kim Coghill and Angus MacSwan)