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Mosques covered with sheets on Holi procession route in India

Mosques covered with sheets on Holi procession route in India

Indian officials are covering mosques with plastic sheets and tarpaulins ahead of a procession marking the Hindu festival of Holi, amid concerns of religious tensions.

The “festival of colours”, set to be celebrated across India on Monday, will see people throwing dry powdered colours, playing with water guns, and enjoying music and sweets. Holi marks the arrival of spring in the Hindu calendar and also celebrates fertility, colour, love, and the triumph of good over evil.

But officials in India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh fear the celebrations, including a procession, could lead to communal unrest in two districts – Bareilly and Laat Saheb.

Police officials said Ram Baraat – an yearly procession of an idol of the Hindu deity Lord Ram – was set to begin at the Narsingh Temple on Sunday, and that they feared it could result in revellers smearing mosques on the procession route with Holi colours.

India experienced an average of almost two instances of anti-Muslim hate speech every day in 2023, according to new figures from a US-based research group. Some 104 hate speech events were organised in the state of Uttar Pradesh alone, the report found, where over 38 million Muslims reside.

Ghule Sushil Chandrabhan, the senior superintendent of police in Bareilly, said the authorities are working to avoid any incidents of unrest, reported The Indian Express.

“We held a meeting with clerics in the district on Friday and they have been told that the mosques will be properly covered so that no mischievous element does anything to disturb communal harmony,” he said, adding that the mosque clerics were satisfied with the arrangements.

“A posse of police personnel will accompany the yatra which, after passing through many areas in the city, will return to the Narsingh Temple,” he told the Indian daily.

Another event is set to take place in Uttar Pradesh’s Shahjahanpur, where the tradition is for locals to hurl footwear at a procession featuring a buffalo cart and a “hapless” man, a role which has been portrayed as a British colonial ruler since India’s independence.

Heavy security arrangements have also been made in Shahjahanpur, where mosques along the procession’s route have been covered with plastic sheets. Police said they would be on high alert throughout Sunday and Monday during the festivities.

Holi is one of the biggest events in the Hindu calendar, and events are held in communities across the country, with foreign tourists also travelling to India to enjoy the spectacle.

Streets are lined with traders in the days before the festival, selling colours – mostly organic – and water guns. The festival is also celebrated in neighbouring Nepal.

Holi begins with Holika Dahan, the ritual burning of pyres that takes place the night before. Wood and other materials burnt in the bonfires are collected days in advance, while an effigy of Holika is also typically placed on top of the pyre.