Indian troops fail to quell Hindu-Muslim riots

Tensions between the groups were sparked two weeks ago when Muslims killed a Hindu. Samanth Subramanian reports

People argue with Indian policemen during curfew hours following riots and clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
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NEW DELHI // Hundreds of troops have been deployed in western Uttar Pradesh after at least 19 were killed in clashes between Hindus and Muslims.

Eight hundred soldiers were called out in the state's Muzaffarnagar district on Saturday night after 10 people - including a television reporter - died in communal violence that day. A curfew was imposed yesterday in the affected areas.

The army sent convoys through towns of the district in a show force. But violence erupted in bursts nonetheless. There were conflicting reports of casualties yesterday. Muzaffarnagar officials put the death toll at 11, while state officials said nine people were killed.

"The toll is expected to rise," said Kaushal Raj Sharma, the district magistrate, "as some people are missing. The police are searching for them".

Tensions between the district's Hindu and Muslim communities have been building since August 27, when two young Hindu men were said to have stabbed and killed a Muslim man in the village of Kawal.

In retaliation, the two Hindus were beaten to death by a crowd of Muslims, police said.

"As the communal divide runs deep in the area, a small incident triggered large-scale violence," Arun Kumar, the additional director general of the state's police, said on Saturday.

But even with 2,000 police officers deployed across the district on Saturday, a spate of stone-throwing broke out between crowds of Hindus and Muslims. As the violence flared, shops and vehicles were set on fire. Some members of the mobs, according to news reports, arrived with guns.

In the village of Sekeda, a photographer hired by the police was beaten to death, the state government said.

Akhilesh Yadav, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has announced payments of 1 million rupees (Dh56,300) to the families of those who have been killed, and between 20,000 and 50,000 rupees to those injured.

"People should not pay attention to rumours and should exercise restraint," Mr Yadav said yesterday, referring to a fake viral video that purported to show the death of the two Hindu men in Kawal. "It is my appeal that a peaceful atmosphere should prevail."

But other political parties have accused Mr Yadav and his Samajwadi Party (SP) government of being inefficient in their policing.

A spokesman for the regional Bahujan Samaj Party said yesterday that the "administrative failure of Mr Yadav's government has once again come to the fore".

In a tweet, Digvijaya Singh, a senior Congress party leader, said: "SP Govt's track record in this tenure is bad. Haven't been able to control Communal Forces in UP."

On Saturday, India's home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, said he had asked state governments to keep a tight check on fundamentalist groups and prevent communal polarisation ahead of the national elections next year.

He said communal violence was on the rise in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir.

"Only 410 incidents of violence were reported last year" in India, Mr Shinde said. "This year, till now, 451 incidents have taken place."

Vandana Misra, the secretary of the Uttar Pradesh chapter of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, said that "although there have always been incidents of communal violence before elections, it has never been as bad as it is this year".

"The political parties are trying very hard to polarise the communities," Ms Misra said, "because they think that's the way to secure votes."

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