At least two persons died of bullet injuries in Jharkhand’s Ranchi, where the police fired in the air to disperse a crowd pelting stones, as protests erupted in several towns and cities across the country on Friday against derogatory references to the Prophet made by former BJP spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal.
The protests also turned violent in UP’s Prayagraj and West Bengal’s Howrah. The protests in Delhi and parts of Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Bihar and Maharashtra were peaceful even as a shutdown was observed in Srinagar.
Internet services were suspended till 6 am on Saturday in Ranchi and 6 am on Monday in Howrah.
In Delhi, the Shahi Imam distanced himself from the protest and called for reconciliation. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), meanwhile, appealed to Islamic scholars and intellectuals to not participate in “those television debates in which the sole intention is to…insult Islam and Muslims”. Sharma’s comments were made during a TV debate.
The protests came days after the remarks of Sharma and Jindal were criticised by over a dozen countries, including the Gulf nations, with India responding that they “do not reflect the views of the Government”. Sharma has since been suspended and Jindal expelled from the BJP.
In Ranchi, the police fired in the air to disperse a gathering that pelted stones, injuring Ranchi SSP Surendra Jha, another officer, and a policeman. Jha suffered a concussion after a stone hit the helmet he was wearing. The district administration later imposed prohibitory orders in the Main Road area.
Speaking to The Indian Express, SP Ranchi (Rural) Naushad Alam said: “Two of the protesters died. The others, who have been admitted to the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences, have injuries caused due to stone-pelting as well as pellets.”
Police sources said the situation escalated after a vehicle ploughed into a group of protesters. Police are also investigating how the bullet injury was caused, the sources said.
The protests also spun out of control in Prayagraj, where heavy stone-pelting resulted in minor injuries to several police personnel. Late in the evening, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath held a meeting with senior officials and directed them to take the “strictest action against those involved in incidents of violence and unlawful protests in the state”.
“He has also asked officials to initiate recovery proceedings where damage was done to public property,” said a state government spokesperson. The meeting was attended by Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Awanish Kumar Awasthi, UP DGP Devendra Singh Chauhan and other senior officials.
The UP Police said that a total of 136 people were arrested over the protests, including 45 in Saharanpur, 37 in Prayagraj, 23 in Ambedkarnagar, 20 in Hathras, seven in Moradabad and four in Firozabad.
Prayagraj SSP Ajay Kumar said violence broke out within the Khuldabad police station limits when youths gathered on the streets long after the afternoon prayers were over. “There were many minors among them. We used light force to disperse them. Even after this, people kept coming out in lanes and raising slogans. Some minor injuries have been sustained by the forces. The situation is under control,” Kumar said.
“The Rapid Action Force and four companies of PAC have been deployed. More force is going to come here from other districts. One rickshaw’s tyre was set on fire but it was doused. There was also an attempt to set a PAC vehicle on fire. Further action will be taken as per investigation,” said the SSP.
In Ambedkarnagar, the police blamed an incident of stone-pelting in the Tanda area on “nine youths in the age group of 15-20 years”. “We used light force and dispersed them. We have identified the accused,” they said.
In Hathras, the police said “some people tried to hold a protest without permission” within the Sikandra Rau station limits. “The police spoke to them and sent them back…Further action is underway,” said the police.
In West Bengal’s Howrah, prohibitory orders were imposed in several areas after protesters attacked a police station and also set fire to a few kiosks, and several two-wheelers and vehicles. Officials said at least 12 policemen were injured.
In Delhi, the police said almost 1,500 people had gathered at Jama Masjid for Friday prayers after which nearly 300 staged a protest. In Maharashtra, peaceful protests were held in 14 districts, with large gatherings reported from Solapur, Navi Mumbai, Nandurbar, Aurangabad, Parbhani and Jalna.
In MP’s Chhindwara district, protesters marched to the Additional District Magisterate’s office where they handed over a memorandum demanding the arrest of Nupur Sharma. A similar memorandum was submitted in Vidisha, too.
In Gujarat, protests were reported from Vadodara and Ahmedabad where shops remained shut in several areas. Protests were also reported in Bhojpur, Muzaffarpur and Nawada districts of Bihar.
And in Hyderabad, tension prevailed outside the Mecca mosque for a brief while as several protesters gathered to raise anti-BJP slogans.
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