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Amnesty calls flogging of Muslims by police 'serious rights violation'

Amnesty calls flogging of Muslims by police serious rights violation


Kheda: The police flogging of Muslim men in Gujarat, a state in western India, has been dubbed "a serious human rights violation" and "utter disrespect towards the law" by the human rights organisation Amnesty International.

On social media, a video of the incident that happened on Tuesday in the Gujarati village of Udhela's Kheda district went viral. It displayed a number of Muslim males being beaten with sticks by police officers dressed in civilian attire while a cheering audience of women and kids looked on.

After receiving a public beating for allegedly hurling stones at a Hindu religious gathering, the men were herded into a police van and instructed to apologise to the audience.

"The Gujarat police's use of striking devices such as lathis [sticks] to beat Muslim men who were tied to a pole by the police themselves is a serious human rights violation and shows their utter disrespect towards rule of law," Amnesty said in a tweet on Wednesday.

"We remind the Gujarat Police that punishment is never a legitimate objective for a law enforcement action, even if using less lethal weapons. In this case, it blatantly ignored the guiding principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, and accountability."

Gujarat is one of the most polarising regions in India, and in 2002, there were religious riots there that left more than 2,000 people dead, the majority of them Muslims, according to some accounts.

Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took office in India in 2014, religious tensions there have risen.

The next state elections are scheduled for December, and the BJP has ruled Gujarat for more than 25 years, Al Jazeera reported.

Amnesty said a new state government "has a chance to break this cycle of widespread and unchecked impunity and bring to justice those responsible for this unlawful and excessive use of force".

Rajesh Gadhiya, senior superintendent of police in Kheda, told Al Jazeera that the Muslim men in the video were allegedly seen throwing stones at worshippers while they were performing the traditional dance known as Garba, which is typically held during the nine-day annual Hindu festival of Navratri.

According to Gadhiya, the proximity of the event to a mosque angered local Muslims, who in turn raised concerns with the Hindu community.

He claimed that because of the tensions, Muslim males threw stones at the gathering on Monday night, injuring at least seven Hindus, including two who required hospitalisation.

"We have filed a case against 43 people and arrested 18 people so far," he told Al Jazeera, adding that all the accused were Muslim

Gadhiya responded that an investigation had been opened into the incident when asked if it was legal for police to publicly beat Muslims.

"Muslim men who disrupted the event were beaten by police and made to apologise to the public," Shobna Patel, a villager who had been in the crowd during the incident, told Al Jazeera.

'Targeted violence'

The flogging, according to Muslim leaders and campaigners, represents "a new low" in India's treatment of its Muslim minority.

A state lawmaker from the opposition Congress party, Imran Khedawala, told Al Jazeera that the BJP was intentionally inflaming religious tensions ahead of the state elections and that the police responsible for the flogging should be held accountable.

"There should be an investigation into the incident. There is a law in place. We demand that the police should be punished for this flogging," Khedawala said.

Muslims have been prohibited from attending religious ceremonies in a number of locations since Navratri began in late September. Hindu organisations assert that Muslims participate in "love jihad" at such gatherings, a false conspiracy theory that claims Muslim men seduce Hindu women in order to convert them to Islam.

Hindu organisations reportedly examined attendees' identities at religious gatherings, according to Indian media reports from the previous week. Muslim guys who were only travelling through the region were sometimes also attacked.

According to local media accounts, authorities in Madhya Pradesh, another state governed by the BJP, destroyed the homes of at least three Muslims accused of hurling stones at Hindu celebrations on Tuesday.

Asaduddin Owaisi, a prominent Muslim politician, denounced Gujarat's police beatings.

"Every day, there is more evidence of mass radicalisation. Floggings and mob violence by cops have become common. Targeted violence against Muslims is treated as 'justice'," he said in a tweet.

An academic and activist named Apoorvanand from New Delhi told Al Jazeera that "the state apparatus is complicit in targeting" Muslims.

"Police are involved in flogging and police are bulldozing houses of Muslims, which is completely illegal. India is no longer a country that is ruled by law. It is now a country ruled by street thugs related to the ideology of Hindutva," he said, using the Hindi word for India's Hindu supremacist movement.

Apoorvanand claimed that Muslims "cannot expect justice in this country" and that the Indian governmental apparatus was working for the "Hindutva goons."

"They [Muslims] are not facing extra state violence but the state has merged itself with the non-state Hindutva network. This has proved that all Hindu festivals have become the cause of misery for non-Hindus," he said.

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