India investigates alleged Hindu nationalist attack on foreign students offering Ramadan prayers

Authorities in western India have launched an investigation after far-right Hindus allegedly attacked foreign university students offering prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, as religious tensions simmer ahead of a crucial general election.

Two people were detained following clashes at the Gujarat University that broke out Saturday after students from countries including Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Tajikistan began praying on the campus grounds, Ahmedabad police said Sunday.

“Around 20-25 people came and asked them why they were offering namaz (prayers) here and should instead read it in the Masjid (mosque),” Ahmedabad police commissioner GS Malik told reporters.

“An argument broke out between them, stones were pelted, and their rooms were vandalized by the people from outside.”

At least two foreign students were injured, according to India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

“State government is taking strict action against the perpetrators,” spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal posted on social platform X.

The incident is the latest in a string of communal clashes to make headlines in the democracy of 1.4 billion, which has become increasingly polarized along religious lines under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.

Viral video, purportedly of the incident, shows men throwing stones at the students’ hostel and damaging vehicles. In another clip, men can be heard chanting “Jai Shree Ram (Hail Lord Ram),” a Hindu slogan that has in recent years become a clarion call against Muslims. Another video appears to show a student slapping a man wearing a saffron scarf, a color associated with Hinduism.

Speaking to regional channel News Capital Gujarat, an Afghan student said about 15 people were praying for Ramadan.

“Three people came chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram,’ he said. “After a while, they came back with at least 200-250 people, pelted stones… They broke our bikes, laptops, phones… We are not safe. We request the university to shift us to a safe place.”

Another student told Gujarat First News that the university had given them permission to pray on campus.

Gujarat University vice chancellor Neerja A. Gupta confirmed clashes broke out between two groups after which some foreign students were injured.

“An investigation is underway,” she told reporters. “Some videos have gone viral and the police is trying to investigate the trigger points.”

Analysts have repeatedly raised alarm against rising intolerance in the world’s largest democracy and fear that inter-religious tensions will increase as Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pushes its populist yet divisive policies in the lead up to a nationwide election next month.

In January, communal tensions rose in western Maharashtra state, with three reported altercations between Hindus and Muslims, according to local police.

In a separate incident in central Madhya Pradesh state, a group of right-wing Hindus was seen placing saffron-colored flags on top of a Christian church.

Both incidents took place one week after Modi inaugurated the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir, a controversial Hindu temple built on the ruins of a 16th century mosque that was destroyed by hardline Hindus some 30 years ago, setting off a wave of deadly sectarian violence not seen in India since its bloody 1947 partition.

Prominent Muslim lawmaker Asaduddin Owaisi criticized Saturday’s violence in Gujarat, calling out Modi and top officials within his government.

“What a shame. When your devotion & religious slogans only come out when Muslims peacefully practice their religion,” he wrote on X. “When you become unexplainably angry at the mere sight of Muslims. What is this, if not mass radicalisation?”

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