Police in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh have arrested a Muslim man who had appealed on social media to hoist the Palestinian flag on homes and vehicles in a show of solidarity against the Israeli offensive on Gaza.
Azamgarh district’s senior superintendent of police Sudhir Kumar Singh told Al Jazeera that they have arrested the man, identified as Yasir Akhtar, after he posted a message on his Facebook page, calling residents in his Saraimeer village to display the flag after the congregational prayers on Friday.
“He was running a page and he made the message viral through Facebook that after Friday prayers, people should hoist the flags on their vehicles and homes,” Singh said, adding that “the man has been arrested and sent to jail.
“This is a congested area and multiple Muslim sects live here. Making a mass appeal post prayers could have resulted in violence. If he wanted to hoist a flag, he could have but calling others is not right. Many people opposed it, so we had to take action.”
More than 230 Palestinians, including at least 65 children, were killed in 11 days in the Gaza Strip as Israeli forces relentlessly bombed Hamas properties and residential buildings in the besieged, impoverished territory.
At least 12 Israelis were also killed after thousands of rockets were launched by Hamas, the group governing the Strip.
Israel’s military campaign had triggered huge solidarity protests across the world, with demonstrators calling for action against Israel for its violation of international law and sanctions to be imposed on it.
Early on Friday, the Israeli cabinet and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, to halt the 11-day conflict.
India’s ‘balancing act’
While many people in India have expressed their solidarity with the people of Palestine, New Delhi was seen doing a “balancing act” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during an open United Nations Security Council (UNSC) session held in the backdrop of the Gaza bombing on Sunday.
At the session, India, a non-permanent UNSC member, reiterated its “strong support for the just Palestinian cause and its unwavering commitment to the two-state solution”.
TS Tirumurti, India’s permanent representative at the UN, condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza but made no direct reference to the disproportionate bombing by Israel on the territory.
“India’s policy on the longest-running conflict in the world has gone from being unequivocally pro-Palestine for the first four decades, to a tense balancing act with its three-decade-old friendly ties with Israel,” wrote journalist Nirupama Subramanian in The Indian Express on Thursday.
“In recent years, India’s position has also been perceived as pro-Israel.”
In fact, India’s “balancing act” did not appear to have gone down well with Israel. In a tweet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has a good rapport with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, thanked 25 countries that he said stood with Israel, but made no reference to India.
That, despite many politicians and followers of Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) openly showing their support for Israel and its military campaign against the Palestinians.
Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous state with nearly 220 million residents, almost one-fifth of them Muslim – is governed by the BJP.
‘Standing for Palestine seen as crime’
Yasir’s brother Muhammad Shadab told Al Jazeera that his brother had copied the solidarity message on his Facebook page.
“He had corrected himself in a second post that it was not meant for people in India, but that he had copied (the message)… It was in Gaza where people were asked to hoist the flags,” he said.
“But if Muslims anywhere are suffering, I believe it is not wrong to support them and speak against injustice.”
Shadab said the family will try to secure bail for Yasir, 34, who has three children and runs a footwear business in Azamgarh.
Talha Ahmad Rashadi, a lawyer based in Azamgarh, told Al Jazeera the “charges are not very severe and he can be bailed out”.
“Although what he did was not illegal, but then you are in Uttar Pradesh,” he said, calling the charges “political”.
“Palestine is a friendly nation to India and we have officially supported the Palestinian cause. This case won’t stand anywhere in the court of law.”
Last week, police in Indian-administered Kashmir arrested 20 people for taking out a pro-Palestinian protest in the main city of Srinagar.
Among those arrested was artist Mudasir Gul, who had drawn a graffiti saying “We are Palestine” in bold, white letters on the gates of a spillover channel of Jhelum river. The graffiti showed the weeping face of a woman, her head draped with the Palestinian flag.
Seventeen of them were released after three days with a warning not to take out such protests in future.
Activists say the BJP is revealing its “double standards” by arresting people for showing support to the occupied people in Palestine.
“Currently, India is ruled by the right-wing party. India has an official stand where they support Palestine but many right-wing leaders and their followers are supporting Israel which reveals their double standards,” Muhammad Asif Khan told Al Jazeera.
“The right-wing people get angry when Muslims in India show their support to Palestine. The overall atmosphere is hostile towards Muslims.”
Khan said Palestine supporters in India are “being portrayed as supporters of terrorism”.
“When they (BJP) themselves support Israel, no one calls them out. Anyone in the world who cares about human rights is standing for Palestine. But in India it is being seen as a crime.”