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As polls near, religious tensions surge in this UP hamlet

As polls near, religious tensions surge in this UP hamlet
Highlights

Nayabans isnt remarkable as northern Indian villages go Sugarcane grows in surrounding fields, women carry animal feed in bullock carts through narrow lanes, people chatter outside a store, and cows loiter

Nayabans isn't remarkable as northern Indian villages go. Sugarcane grows in surrounding fields, women carry animal feed in bullock carts through narrow lanes, people chatter outside a store, and cows loiter. But this week, the village in Uttar Pradesh state became a symbol of the deepening communal divide in India as some Hindu men from the area complained they had seen a group of Muslims slaughtering cows in a mango orchard a couple of miles away.

That infuriated Hindus, who regard the cow as a sacred animal. Anger against Muslims turned into outrage that police had not stopped an illegal practise, and a Hindu mob blocked a highway, threw stones, burned vehicles and eventually two people were shot and killed - including a police officer.

The events throw a spotlight on the religious strains in places like Nayabans since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the national level in 2014 and in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. Tensions are ratcheting up ahead of the next general election, due to be held by May. The BJP said it was ‘bizarre’ to assume the party would benefit from any religious disharmony, dismissing suggestions that its supporters were largely responsible for the tensions.

“In a large country like India nobody can ensure that nothing will go wrong, but it's our responsibility to maintain law and order and we understand that,” party spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal said. “But people are trying to politicise these issues.”

Nayabans, just about three hour's drive from Delhi, has about 400 Muslims out of a population of 4,000, the rest are Hindu. Relations between the communities began deteriorating around the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last year when Hindus in the village demanded that loudspeakers used to call for prayer at a makeshift mosque be removed, local Muslims said.

By Krishna N Das

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