Protests by Indian Muslims continue, as lawyers condemn state response

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Protest against India's BJP members' comments on Prophet Mohammed, in Kolkata
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By Subrata Nag Choudhury

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) - Thousands of Muslims marched in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata on Tuesday in a second week of protests, while six prominent former judges said a state government had acted illegally by demolishing the house of a Muslim activist.

Muslims have taken to the streets across India to protest against anti-Islamic comments made by two members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Clashes have broken out between Muslims and Hindus and between protesters and police in several areas, with at least 400 people arrested.

In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), chief minister Yogi Adityanath, a BJP hardliner, ordered the weekend demolition of any illegal buildings of people accused of involvement in riots last week, including the home of activist Mohammad Javed.

In a letter addressed to the chief justice, six former judges and six senior lawyers on Tuesday condemned the state's action in destroying Javed's house on Sunday.

The former judges and lawyers urged the Supreme Court to take action to "arrest the deteriorating law and order situation" in Uttar Pradesh.

"The coordinated manner in which the police and development authorities have acted lead to the clear conclusion that demolitions are a form of collective extra-judicial punishment, attributable to a state policy which is illegal," they wrote.

Local officials said the demolition was justified as parts of the house had been illegally constructed and that Javed had not appeared for hearings on the issue in May.

UP police have said Javed was also involved in riots sparked during one of the recent protests.

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 protests that have spread to several northern and eastern cities were triggered by derogatory comments about the Prophet Mohammad made by two BJP officials in May and June.

The party suspended a spokeswoman and expelled the other official over the comments, and said it condemned any insult towards any religion.

But critics say religious polarisation has deepened in India since Modi came to power in 2014. Modi has so far not commented on this issue.

Countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Iran - all important trade partners for India - lodged diplomatic protests against the anti-Islam remarks.

(Additional reporting by Suchitra Mohanty in New Delhi, Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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