The demolition of a mosque and a Muslim seminary has led to deadly clashes and an internet shutdown in northern India. The flare-up, in the hill state of Uttarakhand, is the latest bout of sectarian tensions as Muslim sites have become a broader target of the Hindu right wing after the opening of a major temple last month.
The toll of the violence was unclear. An official in Haldwani, the town where the clash took place, said in an interview that two people had been killed and dozens injured, including police officers. Reports in the Indian news media, citing top police officials, said four people had been killed, but this could not be confirmed because the police did not respond to requests for comment. Images from the area revealed vehicles destroyed by fire and debris littering the streets.
Thursday’s unrest began when officials and the police arrived to raze the structures, which the authorities said had been illegally built on public land, and encountered an angry crowd. Witnesses said that the police fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who threw stones at a police station and set vehicles on fire. The police have denied using live ammunition.
The violence unfolded against the backdrop of Hinduism’s rise as a national identity in India, a multiethnic state founded as secular republic, but which in the past decade has been moving steadily further from that vision under the leadership of Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party.
In his 10 years as prime minister, Mr. Modi has fulfilled many of his campaign promises, like building an enormous Hindu temple where a mosque once stood, and stripping the Kashmir region of its semiautonomous status.
Thursday’s demolition was part of a larger government effort that leaders of the opposition say has been targeting Muslims. In 2022, a court in Uttarakhand ordered the destruction of about 4,000 homes of mainly Muslim inhabitants in Haldwani, located on land that the court said encroached on a railway line.
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