New Delhi: Protests broke out in several parts of the country, including Delhi, reportedly after Friday prayers at mosques, with a demand for action against the now-suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma, who had made derogatory comments about Prophet Muhammad during a TV debate last month.
Protests erupted in Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Punjab, Telangana, Maharashtra and West Bengal.
Sharma’s comments had led to global outrage earlier with many Arab countries raising the issue with the Indian government. She and BJP Delhi media in-charge Naveen Kumar Jindal — since expelled over similar controversial remarks about the Prophet — have also been booked in Delhi for allegedly spreading “hate messages”.
In Delhi, the protest took place outside the Jama Masjid.
Speaking to ANI, the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid said: “No call for protest was given by the masjid. We don’t know who are the ones protesting. I think they belong to AIMIM [All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen] or are [AIMIM president Asaduddin] Owaisi’s people. We made it clear that if they want to protest, they can, but we will not support them.”
The protesters have demanded the arrest of Sharma and Jindal.
Speaking to news channel News 18, Minister of State for Law S.P. Baghel said Friday that the “protests are not justified” and that they are a part of a “criminal conspiracy”. He also said the Shahi Imam’s statement about their alleged lack of involvement in the protest is “not correct”.
The BJP had Sunday suspended Sharma pending an inquiry and ousted Jindal from the party altogether. Both Sharma and Jindal apologised for their inflammatory comments later.
The action, which came shortly after the BJP issued a statement on 5 June, denouncing insult to any religious personality, is said to be the result of the party’s growing unease over statements being made against Muslims. The BJP leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was said to be upset with Sharma’s statement.
State of unrest
In Uttar Pradesh, several cities — including Lucknow, Prayagraj, Moradabad, and Saharanpur — saw protests.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, speaking to the same news channel as Baghel, said that action will be taken “against those disrupting peace” and that all “places will be monitored heavily”.
In some areas of the state, the protests turned violent, according to visuals aired on TV news channels. Uttar Pradesh had earlier, taking preemptive action, imposed Article 144 in a number of districts, prohibiting gatherings of more than four persons at a place.
PTI reported that some vehicles were set on fire in Prayagraj as part of the protest and an attempt was made to set ablaze a police vehicle. The police, it added, had to use tear gas and lathis to disperse mobs to restore peace. One policeman was injured.
In Srinagar, a “spontaneous shutdown” was called by “unknown persons” protesting against Nupur Sharma’s remarks and, apart from the Raj Bagh area, all markets observed a voluntary shutdown, local residents told ThePrint. At the same time, local internet was completely shut down, including prepaid and postpaid connections.
Vadodara and Ahmedabad in Gujarat, too, saw protests. According to news reports, shops and businesses in certain areas of the city remained shut. In Karnataka, an effigy of Nupur Sharma was hanged in Belagavi.
Muslim organisations across Punjab, too, protested Sharma’s comments. Visuals of demonstrations outside the Jama Masjid in Ludhiana appeared in news reports. Telangana and Maharashtra witnessed similar scenes of sloganeering and demonstration demanding Sharma’s arrest.
The national highway in West Bengal’s Uluberia was blocked by protesters, while a BJP office in the state’s Howrah district was reportedly set on fire.
A curfew was imposed in parts of Ranchi, Jharkhand, after several policemen were reportedly injured while trying to control a violent mob. According to news reports, police lathi-charged the mob after they pelted security personnel with stones.
The demonstrations coincided with voting for the Rajya Sabha polls for 16 seats across four states — Rajasthan, Haryana, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)