Anger erupts in Bangladesh, India over comments about Islam

The Associated Press
Muslims shout slogans during a protest outside a mosque in Dhaka on Friday.

DHAKA (AP) — Thousands of people marched in Bangladesh’s capital and in parts of India on Friday to urge Muslim-majority nations to cut ties with India and boycott its products unless it punishes two governing party officials for comments deemed derogatory to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Two protesters died of gunshot injuries sustained during clashes with police in the eastern Indian city of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state, said Prabhat Kumar, a senior doctor at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences, on Saturday. Another 10 people were being treated for various injuries at the hospital.

Authorities imposed a curfew on Friday night in parts of Ranchi after clashes between protesters and police left six officers injured, police said.

The protesters in Dhaka also criticized their country’s government for not publicly condemning the comments made last week by the two officials in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party.

One official has been suspended and the other expelled after the BJP denounced insults of religious figures, but protesters in Bangladesh and India said the actions were not enough.

In Bangladesh, they marched after Friday prayers through streets near the main Baitul Mukarram Mosque in downtown Dhaka. Many chanted slogans against Modi.

“The global Muslim community has been united. We ask the whole world to boycott Indian products,” said Moulana Imtiaz Alam, leader of Islami Andolan Bangladesh, a grouping of Islamist parties that support the introduction of Islamic law in the country.

Alam called for the two Indian officials to be arrested and punished.

In India, thousands of Muslims took to the streets after Friday prayers and hurled rocks at police in several towns and cities.

Police used wooden batons and tear gas to disperse protesters in Hyderabad, Saharanpur, Prayagraj, Moradabad and Kanpur. Some demonstrators hurled rocks at security forces from rooftops, TV images showed.

In Prayagraj in northern Uttar Pradesh state, the protesters set several motorcycles and pushcarts on fire and damaged a police vehicle on Friday. Police used batons and tear gas to disperse them.

One police officer was injured when he was hit in the face with a rock thrown by protesters, said police officer Ajay Kumar.

Prashant Kumar, the state’s top police officer, said 136 protesters were arrested in six districts for rioting.

Mohammed Salim Qureshi, a protester outside New Delhi’s main Jama Masjid Mosque, also demanded the arrest of the two BJP officials.

Ahmed Bukhari, the imam of Jama Masjid, said the protest was spontaneous.

A paper effigy of BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma was burned in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh state.

In the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, authorities locked down two towns and cut mobile internet service in several towns and in Srinagar, the region’s main city, fearing anger against the comments could turn into larger anti-India protests.

Scores of Muslim residents protested against the two BJP officials in Srinagar, where shops and businesses shut spontaneously Friday. Authorities did not allow Friday prayers in Srinagar’s main mosque or in the remote, mountainous towns of Bhaderwah and Kishtwar.

Protests nevertheless erupted for a second day in Bhaderwah, leading to clashes with government forces. No injuries were reported.

On Thursday, thousands protested in the town after a Hindu man posted a representation of the Prophet Muhammad and his wife on social media. Police have brought a case against the suspect.

Police also were investigating two Muslim men accused of delivering speeches against Hindus during Thursday’s protest.

Tensions have been high in the divided Muslim-majority Himalayan region, also claimed by Pakistan, since 2019, when New Delhi ended its semi-autonomy and took direct control of the portion it administers.

At least five Arab nations have lodged official protests against India, and Pakistan and Afghanistan also reacted strongly this week to the comments made by the two BJP officials. They follow increasing violence targeting India’s Muslim minority by Hindu nationalists who have been emboldened by Modi’s silence about such attacks since he was elected in 2014.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has maintained a warm relationship with India for more than a decade despite growing anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh, India’s neighbor and a major trading partner.