New Delhi, India – At least five people, including a former spokesman of India’s governing right-wing party, are in police custody over anti-Muslim slogans raised in the capital.
A protest, organised on Sunday by former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Supreme Court lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, to demand the “scrapping of India’s colonial-era laws” turned into a demonstration against Muslims.
A mob of more than 100 people called for violence against the minority community at Jantar Mantar, a Mughal-era observatory that is a popular protest site.
Videos purportedly from the event showed a mob saying Muslims were “pigs” and calling for the “mass slaying” of the minority, which constitutes about 14 percent of India’s 1.35 billion population. Among the slogans raised at the event were “Jab mulle kaate jayenge, wo Ram Ram chillayenge” (When Muslims will be slain, they will chant Lord Ram’s name) and “Hindustan mein rahna hoga, to Jai Shri Ram kahna hoga” (If you want to live in India, you must say Hail Lord Ram).
Ram is one of the most revered deities in Hinduism. A BJP-led movement to demolish a 16th-century mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya which, according to Hindu groups, stood on the site of Ram’s birthplace, catapulted the party to political prominence in the 1980s. The mosque was demolished in 1992 and Modi last year laid the foundation stone of a temple being built there.
On Monday night, Upadhyay and four others were “detained for questioning”, according to a Delhi police spokesman. The police had initially filed charges against “unknown persons” behind the event. The event, held in the heart of the Indian capital and barely a kilometre (half a mile) away from India’s parliament building, has stunned New Delhi’s Muslim residents, who are still coming to terms with deadly riots the city witnessed last year.
In February last year, at least 53 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in the worst religious violence in the capital in more than 30 years.
The riots occurred during nationwide protests against a controversial law passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in 2019, which grants Indian citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Critics say the law violates India’s secular constitution by discriminating against Muslims.
New Delhi’s Muslims in fear
Muslim Indians in the capital say there is increasing fear in the community because of the “impunity enjoyed by Hindu supremacist forces” in the country.
“It is happening at the behest of RSS which wants to create an atmosphere of perpetual fear and hatred against Muslims,” Mohammad Nasir, 34, told Al Jazeera, referring to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological fountainhead.
The RSS was formed in 1925, inspired by Germany’s Nazi party, in order to create an ethnic Hindu state in India.
“This is now almost like an everyday occurrence,” said Nasir, who lost an eye in an attack by a Hindu mob during last year’s violence.