India's Muslims subjected to 'summary punishment', watchdog says

Human Rights Watch condemns video showing men being publicly flogged by police over accusations of disrupting a Hindu celebration

Residents and officials crowd around a bulldozer during a demolition drive in a mainly Muslim district of New Delhi, in May. Human Rights Watch has said the demolitions follow a pattern of punishment witnessed across several states against members of the minority community.   AP
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An international watchdog has given a warning that violence and discrimination against India's minority Muslim community appeared to be becoming a “state policy”.

Muslims in the country are increasingly being subjected to “summary and abusive punishments” by people in positions of power, on charges of wrongdoing, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

The New York-based advocacy group cited a public flogging of Muslim men by police on Tuesday as the latest example.

Videos circulating online showed a policeman striking the men with a baton as others held them against an electricity pole.

The incident took place in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The men were accused of pelting stones during a "garba", a traditional dance from the western state which is performed for the nine-day Hindu festival of Navaratri.

State police on Friday confirmed the identity of the officer involved and ordered an inquiry into the incident.

Human Rights Watch said the flogging followed a pattern of punishment witnessed across several states with governments headed by Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including the demolition of homes without prior legal authorisation.

In Madhya Pradesh, authorities on Tuesday demolished the homes of three Muslim men arrested over an alleged scuffle with Hindus following a dispute over a garba, claiming that they were built illegally.

At least 19 Muslim men were detained across the state for allegedly throwing stones at Hindu revellers at garbas. They were charged with attempt to murder and rioting.

“The authorities in several Indian states are carrying out violence against Muslims as a kind of summary punishment,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in the report.

“Officials blatantly disregarding the rule of law are sending a message to the public that Muslims can be discriminated against and attacked.”

Indian opposition parties and rights activists say violence and discrimination against the country’s Muslim population of about 200 million have increased since Mr Modi took office in 2014.

In recent months, authorities in BJP-run states have demolished dozens of homes and businesses of Muslim men accused of sectarian violence, in what critics said were acts of "retribution" and "collective punishment" against the community.

Officials overseeing these demolitions said the structures were built illegally.

In June, authorities razed the two-storey house of Javed Mohammad, a local politician in Prayagraj city in Uttar Pradesh state. Weeks earlier, dozens of Muslim homes were razed in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi following protests against a BJP representative for derogatory comments against the Prophet Mohammed during a TV debate.

Human Rights Watch said such demolitions “compounded the vulnerability of women, children, older persons, and people with disabilities who live there".

"Indian authorities are increasingly acting as if summary punishment has become a state policy,” Ms Ganguly said.

"If the Indian government does not take immediate action to roll back discriminatory laws, policies, and actions targeting minorities, rule of law will be replaced by bulldozers and sticks.”

Updated: October 07, 2022, 10:11 AM