August 14, 2022

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Fear and anger in India’s Udaipur where Hindu tailor was killed

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Udaipur, Rajasthan, India – Tension prevails in Udaipur, an old city of artificial lakes in the desert state of Rajasthan in northwestern India, after two Muslim were arrested for the brutal murder of a Hindu tailor last week.

Kanhaiyalal Teli was allegedly beheaded by the two men over his social media post in support of a former official of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who made incendiary remarks against the Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha.

 

The remarks made during a TV debate in late May sparked protests across the country and embroiled New Delhi in a diplomatic storm as more than 20 Muslim nations condemned the BJP official and demanded an apology from India’s Hindu nationalist government.

The BJP suspended the official and issued a rare statement, saying it respects all religions. But its damage control was also accompanied by a brutal crackdown on Muslim protesters, with at least two killed and many houses bulldozed.

In two videos Teli’s alleged killers – Mohammad Riyaz Akhtari and Ghouse Mohammad, in their 30s and both fathers of two children – posted after the murder, they said they were seeking revenge for the BJP official’s anti-Islam remarks. The veracity of the two videos has not been confirmed.

 

The federally controlled National Investigation Agency (NIA) is investigating the case and has made more arrests, including of an alleged “mastermind” behind the killing. The NIA also said it is looking into whether the murder was conducted by a “local self-radicalised terror gang” or part of a larger international “terror” network.

 

Meanwhile, Indian media reports suggested that one of the alleged killers could be a BJP member, and that the killing could be a part of a conspiracy by the right-wing party to ignite religious violence in the city.

Photos of Akhtari with alleged BJP workers were distributed on social media over the weekend as the party denied any links with him.

 

In Udaipur’s Khanji Pir, a working-class ghetto of mostly Muslims, many people recognised Ghouse but few could talk in any detail about Akhtari, except that he was a welder and had been living in the neighbourhood for a few years with his family.

Ghouse’s neighbours said he worked as an insurance agent, was “always very courteous and liked by everybody in the locality”, and that they were shocked to see him in the video with Akhtari.

“He would always greet people on his way and offer namaz [prayers] five times a day. I don’t understand what suddenly happened,” a neighbour told Al Jazeera, requesting anonymity.

 

“I have never seen Riyaz (Akhtari) and Ghouse together. We only know that Riyaz used to stay down here in some rented apartment but nothing more than that. He was always seen in the mosque, though”, she added, as her husband stood next to her nodding in agreement.

Since Teli’s killing on June 28, authorities in Udaipur have banned public gatherings of more than four people in the city of about 500,000 residents, 90,000 of them Muslims.

Last week, Udaipur witnessed several protests led by Hindu groups over Teli’s murder, with hundreds of men on their motorbikes carrying sticks and other weapons in their hands, raising hate slogans against the Muslim community.

Udaipur murder
Hindus marching with saffron flags over the murder in Udaipur [Samriddhi Sakunia/Al Jazeera]

“If they (Muslims) want to stay here, they better stay within their limits,” a demonstrator told Al Jazeera as he held a saffron flag.

“I don’t understand why this government is supporting terrorists like these,” he said, referring to the state government led by the opposition Congress party.

Many demonstrators wanted the two suspects to be either hanged or killed by the police in an “encounter” – a common word for extrajudicial killing.

 

The Muslims in Khanji Pir said they had been living in fear since the murder on June 28. They also alleged the authorities have blockaded the neighbourhood and do not allow them to go out, even for essential supplies.

“There is no hospital in the vicinity, only two to three medical shops. So, we don’t know what will happen in a time of emergency since we aren’t allowed to step out,” a resident told Al Jazeera, refusing to reveal his identity for fear of reprisals.

Some said they were managing with leftover rations in their house because they cannot leave their houses.

A group of residents in the ghetto are also agitated over how the Indian mainstream media covers issues involving the community.

“Every day we are hounded by media people asking us strange questions about our possible connections with the killers,” shopkeeper Akbar Khan, an immediate neighbour of Ghouse, told Al Jazeera.

“They did come to us but only to talk about Riyaz and Ghouse, and not about us and how we feel,” said another Muslim man.

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