A mob of alleged Hindu extremists beat a group of Muslim students playing cricket and forced them to chant Hindu slogans in northern India, the Hindustan Times reported this week.
The students, who were reportedly playing cricket on the grounds of the Government Inter College (GIC) in Unnao, were allegedly attacked by four men who forced them to chant the slogan “Jai Shri Ram,” meaning “Victory to Lord Rama,” in reference to the Hindu deity.
The Hindustan Times cited the first incident report filed by local police, which claimed the students were “forced to chant Jai Shri Ram and beaten up with cricket bats and their clothes were torn.” Their school’s principal, Nisar Ahmad Misbahi, claimed that the attackers threw stones and damaged their bicycles.
“They snatched their bats and began forcing them to chant Jai Shri Ram,” he said. “They were beaten up with the cricket bats and dragged through the ground. Stones were thrown at the students who were trying to run away. Their bicycles were also damaged and their clothes [were] torn.”
Local police officer Umesh Tyagi told the newspaper that two individuals had been taken into custody, and three students had sustained injuries during the incident.
“The students of the seminary, situated near the Jama Masjid, were playing cricket in GIC ground,” he explained. “There was a brawl and a case has been registered on the basis of the complaint filed by them. Three students were injured and two of the accused were taken into police custody.”
Responding to the arrests, a group of Hindu nationalists protested outside the police station, demanding the immediate release of the suspects.
“We want the police officials to release all the persons who have been arrested in connection with this case,” one protester told Asian News International. “They are not involved in this case, in any manner. This was a small incident which has been turned into a huge communal issue now.”
In a press conference called on Friday night, the Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) PV Ramashastri also sought to quash claims that the attack had been religiously motivated, as community tensions threatened to boil over.
“Earlier, too, attempts were made to vitiate communal harmony in Kanpur, Aligarh, Agra and other districts by distorting facts and spreading rumors,” he said. “With prompt action, the local police countered the design of anti-social elements and arrested them.”
India has historically been plagued by religious violence, principally between Hindus and Muslims, but also among other minority groups. Many of these attacks are carried out by Hindu nationalists against other minorities. Last month, a Hindu mob beat a Muslim man to death in what was described on social media as a sectarian “lynching.”
In its worldwide report on religious freedom last month, the U.S. State Department accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-majority Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of stoking religious tensions and failing to act against vigilante groups targeting Muslims and other minorities.
“There were reports by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that the government sometimes failed to act on mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalized communities, and critics of the government,” the report read. “Some senior officials of the Hindu-majority Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made inflammatory speeches against minority communities.”
The report also noted that many of the attacks were carried out by “cow vigilantes” amid “rumors that victims had traded or killed cows for beef.” Cows are considered a sacred animal in Hinduism and must be protected and revered.
“Mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year,” it noted. “According to some NGOs, authorities often protected perpetrators from prosecution. As of November, there were 18 such attacks, and eight people killed during the year. “