By Vishal Yashoda /Global Voices/ – An inflammatory Facebook post provoked violent clashes between protesters and police in Bangalore on August 11, leaving three dead and dozens injured.
The post alleged sexual offenses against a minor and was considered to be a smear of the Prophet Muhammad. It was shared by P Naveen, nephew of Srinivas Murthy, a politician by the opposition party Indian National Congress (INC). The post has since been deleted.
Shortly after it was shared, a mob protested outside Murthy’s house, located in the village of Devarajeevanahalli, in a rural area of Bangalore (officially known as Bengaluru).
The mob also attempted to burn down two police stations. Around 60 police officers were injured in the episode along with several protesters.
(“Gundas” means goons in Kannada and Hindi)
The clash escalated to large-scale protests in two other villagers in Bangalore, KG Halli, and DG Halli (Halli means “village” in Kannada). Soon afterward, the state government imposed a curfew in the area. Police arrested over 100 people.
Media reports claim some of the protesters belonged to the Social Democratic Party of India, an Islamic political outfit.
One of those arrested was Sayyad Nadeem, a 24-year-old mechanic who died of COVID-19 while in custody. Following the arrest, he was admitted to Bowring hospital in the city of Bangalore after complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath. He died a few days later, according to the police. His COVID-19 test came back positive.
The chief minister of the state of Karnataka, where Bangalore is located, BS. Yeddyurappa urged authorities to take strict action against those partaking in the protests. He added that his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)government would “not tolerate such provocations and rumors”.
While India’s constitution is democratic and secular, violence between its Hindu and Muslim communities have long plagued the country. In recent years, the problem has worsened with online misinformation and harassment campaigns.
Earlier this year, over 50 people were killed during riots in the capital New Delhi following protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The majority of the victims were Muslim.
During the recent riots in Bangalore, at least five reporters were attacked by protesters and the police, as chronicled by NewsLaundry.
The blame game — and reactions
In the aftermath of the violence, numerous right-wing groups on social media claimed that P Naveen’s post was a response to someone called Adyar Basheer Adyar who had allegedly posted derogatory comments against the Hindu goddess Lakshmi.
But an investigation by the fact-checking organization AltNews established these claims as false. AltNews proved that Basheer’s anti-Hindu post was from 2018, and P Naveen had never replied to it; the two images had been morphed to sustain the false claim.
Taking note of the situation, Bangalore Parliament member Tejasvi Surya from BJP advised the Karnataka government to follow Uttar Pradesh’s Yogi Adityanath model and confiscate the properties of rioters as a way to compensate for the loss to public property. This is a measure Indian activists see as biased against minorities, and one that contributes to suppressing protests against legitimate issues.