One dead as violence rocks eastern India during Hindu festival

Riot police deployed and mobile internet services cut in parts of Bihar state after one person is shot dead in Bihar Sharif town.

India Hindu festival
Hindu devotees participate in a procession to mark Ram Navami festival in Hyderabad [Mahesh Kumar A/AP]

Authorities have deployed hundreds of riot police and cut mobile internet services in parts of eastern India after violence erupted in several states during a Hindu religious festival.

Police said at least one person, a minor according to local media reports, was shot dead in the town of Bihar Sharif in Bihar state’s Nalanda district on Saturday as Hindus took out a procession to mark Ram Navami.

This came a day after mobs set fire to homes and shops during at times frenzied public celebrations of the festival in the town.

Local reports said a prominent Muslim school was torched in Bihar Sharif during the festival.

Ram Navami festival in several parts of India usually sees large processions by people brandishing swords, sticks, tridents and even guns.

In recent years, the rallies have provocatively marched through Muslim neighbourhoods with religious – and often hate-filled music – pulsating through powerful sound systems.

Nalanda police chief Shibli Nomani said nearly 100 people have been arrested over violence that erupted on Thursday when thousands of Hindus rallied on the streets and paraded through Muslim-dominated areas.

“The situation is under control. We are patrolling the area and ensuring no gatherings are allowed,” he told AFP news agency, adding that the unrest was being investigated.

India Bihar violence
A policeman walks through a street after violence during Ram Navami in Bihar’s Sasaram district [AFP]

Similar communal flare-ups were reported in two other cities in Bihar, where authorities shut mobile internet services in some areas and clamped down on public movement.

In Rohtas, another district hit by violence where police arrested dozens, six people were injured in an explosion inside a house where two men were allegedly making a bomb.

Bihar police tweeted that at first glance it did not appear that the blast was related to the recent unrest. Homemade explosives are sometimes used in mining in the area.

Violence also hit at least seven other Indian states in recent days following the Hindu festival, with dozens injured and hundreds arrested in at least 13 towns and cities.

This included Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and West Bengal, where mobs rampaged and torched vehicles and shops in Howrah district on Thursday.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said violence in her state began after a procession diverted from its route to an unauthorised area in the district’s Shibpur area.

A senior police official said stones were hurled at the procession as it passed through the area. Banerjee said there were lapses on the part of the police and strong action would be taken in the matter.

Banerjee also accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of orchestrating the violence. The BJP accused her of targeting Hindus.

Similar violence was reported in Modi’s home state of Gujarat on Thursday in western India where clashes were reported in Vadodara and in Aurangabad in the neighbouring Maharashtra state.

Critics say hardline Hindu groups have been emboldened since Modi, who was Gujarat’s chief minister during the infamous 2002 riots, was elected prime minister in 2014.

Last year, similar incidents were reported across several cities on Ram Navami, including in national capital New Delhi and in the eastern state of Jharkhand where one person was killed.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies