Sectarian violence erupts in Mumbai over Ram Temple in Ayodhya

Hindus and Muslims clashed after the opening of the temple on the site of a former mosque

Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party celebrate in Mumbai during the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. AP Photo
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Authorities in India’s financial capital Mumbai have been sharply criticised for demolishing properties, mainly belonging to Muslims, after sectarian clashes broke out on the day of Ram Temple's inauguration.

Bulldozers were brought in under police supervision on Tuesday to raze structures that they claimed were “illegal” in the Mira Road area where Hindu and Muslim mobs clashed on Monday.

The Maharashtra state government, led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, said the action was being taken against illegally built shops and homes.

Residents in the Muslim-majority area had reportedly thrown stones at a procession led by Hindus, who were in turn said to have chanted provocative slogans and been armed with sticks, iron rods and bats.

The procession was celebrating the inauguration of a temple dedicated to Hindu deity Rama by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, nearly 1,600km away in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.

The temple is being built on the site of a 16th century mosque that was demolished by the Hindus in 1992. The mosque's demolition was followed by one of the worst bouts of sectarian violence across India, including Mumbai, then called Bombay.

Footage of the clashes in Mumbai this week was shared on social media with unverified videos apparently showing a stick-wielding Muslim mob smashing cars belonging to Hindus in the procession and attacking them.

The situation flared up again when Hindu mobs attacked Muslim-owned properties in the area, with violence continuing into a third day on Wednesday.

Scores of other videos on social media and broadcast on Indian channels showed Hindu mobs targeting properties and attacking people, with live Facebook streams encouraging people to target Muslims.

In one video, a mob is seen attacking a driver and his commercial vehicle with the Muslim name “Rashid Tempo Service” on the side, while others ran amok attacking properties.

The police posted extra officers in a bid to control the violence. They said more than a dozen people were arrested late on Monday, with over 60 people, mostly Muslims, arrested on Tuesday.

As part of the crackdown, the Mira Road demolitions followed the arrests.

State governments run by the Prime Minister's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have been accused of engaging in political demolitions, with authorities razing properties belonging to Muslims as a form of collective punishment after sectarian clashes.

“The Mira Road bulldozer politics orchestrated by Eknath Shinde and BJP-led Maharashtra government is petty to say the least,” said journalist Prakash Ambedkar.

“It is designed to escalate oppression and perpetuate an environment of fear and helplessness among the minorities.”

“Police blame members of the majority community but the government takes action against members of the minority community,” said Subhashini Ali, of the Communist Party of India, on X, where she shared an image captioned: “Bulldozer action in Mumbai where clashes took place.”

Scores of the properties belonging to Muslims accused of participating in communal violence and Muslim activists who participated in protests have been demolished in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, and Delhi, states ruled by the Hindu nationalist party BJP.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court in August moved to prevent authorities demolishing buildings in the aftermath of deadly sectarian clashes in Haryana’s Nuh district.

The court observed that the authorities did not follow legal procedures before demolishing the properties and asked whether the state action was an “exercise of ethnic cleansing”.

However, politicians and supporters of the BJP and other Hindu groups have praised the government for razing the properties amid calls by Hindu social media influencers to “teach” a lesson to Muslims.

“Bulldozers demolishing Illegal constructions in Mira Road yesterday and the day before yesterday. Hindus celebrating Ram Temple consecration were attacked in this same locality,” Suresh Nakhua, Mumbai spokesperson for the BJP, said on X, while thanking his party leader and Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis.

Several other sectarian incidents across the country followed the inauguration of the flashpoint temple on Monday.

Attacks on Muslim properties and minority religious centres were reported in the states of Karnataka, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh.

In one incident, a saffron flag – a colour associated with Hindu nationalist groups – was planted on top of a church in Madhya Pradesh state.

In another incident, a procession celebrating the opening of the temple arrived in front of a mosque in Narayanpet district, in southern Telangana, and played loud music on their DJ system.

Videos on social media also showed people singing Hindu religious songs outside a mosque.

Updated: January 24, 2024, 9:37 PM