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Mumbai — Fearing outbreaks of religious violence, police in the Indian state of Rajasthan banned public gatherings and suspended internet services a day after two Muslims posted a video claiming responsibility for killing a Hindu tailor in the city of Udaipur.
Two suspects were being interrogated by federal investigators on Wednesday, while state police were on guard against any unrest in the northwestern state.
“We are under strict orders to prevent any form of protests or demonstrations scheduled to condemn the murder,” Hawa Singh Ghumaria, a senior police officer in Rajasthan, told Reuters, adding that the crime had sent “shock waves through the country”.
Brandishing a meat cleaver, two bearded men said in the video that they were avenging an insult to Prophet Mohammad caused by the victim. They also alluded to Nupur Sharma, a former spokesperson for the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose remarks about the prophet earlier in June triggered domestic and international outrage.
India’s home minister, Amit Shah, said in a tweet that federal police have taken over the investigation into “the brutal murder” of Kanhaiya Lal Teli, giving the victim’s full name. “The involvement of any organisation and international links will be thoroughly investigated,” Shah said.
Late on Wednesday, a spokesperson from Pakistan’s foreign ministry rejected reports in some Indian media that link the suspects to a Pakistan-based organisation.
The two assailants had slashed Teli’s head and throat in an attack while the tailor was taking measurements, according to Bhawarlal Thoda, a city administrator in Udaipur.
According to Thoda, the tailor had been detained after a social media post in support of the BJP spokesperson was traced to his mobile telephone. After being released, Teli told police on June 15 that he was being threatened by an unknown group.
“Terrorists executed my father in the most shocking way. The country must stand with our family to demand justice,” the victim’s son, Yash, told Reuters after his father’s body was cremated on Wednesday. He said the culprits should be tried and sentenced to death, and denied that his father has made any remarks that would be offensive to other religions.
Politicians and prominent Islamic preachers condemned the killing.
“The incident has shocked followers of Islam, the heinous act committed by two men is absolutely un-Islamic,” said Maulana Ahmed Siddiqui, a Muslim cleric based in Udaipur.
Authorities said they suspended internet services in several parts of Rajasthan to prevent circulation of the video.
“The mood is tense and almost all shops are closed today,” Thoda said. The city of about half-a-million people is one of the major tourist draws in the desert state, and is known for its luxurious hotels, including the famous Taj Lake Palace.
In another video clip posted online, one of the assailants went on to threaten Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying their blade would find him too.
Hardline Hindu organisations held protests in the capital, New Delhi, to condemn the killing of Teli. More protests are planned for Thursday.
India has a long history of religious violence, and thousands of people have been killed since the country became independent from British colonial rule in 1947.
Modi’s pursuit of a “Hindu first” agenda since coming to power in 2014 has stoked tensions in a country where Muslims account for about 13% of its 1.4-billion people.
Earlier in June the BJP suspended Sharma from the party and expelled another official but the furore has not died down.
Modi has not commented on the incident in Udaipur. But former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, who belongs to the BJP, blamed the Congress Party, now running the state, for the “communal frenzy and violence” that has arisen there. Raje said “such acts can occur because the state government provides tacit support to criminals”.
While Congress has championed secular values in India since independence, the BJP has cast it as a pro-Muslim party to draw Hindus away from its main opposition.
Rajasthan, with a population of about 69-million people, is just one of two Indian states where Congress holds a majority in the state legislature and it is due to hold elections in 2023.
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