By Saurabh Sharma and Rupam Jain
UDAIPUR/MUMBAI, India (Reuters) – Indian police on Saturday made new arrests over the murder of a Hindu tailor in Rajasthan, sparking tensions between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority and cracking down on protests and the internet to escalate to prevent.
Two Muslim men already jailed for the murder, who filmed the act and posted it online, said it was in response to the victim’s support for a politician’s derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad.
The victim, Kanhaiya Lal Teli, allegedly made a social media post supporting Nupur Sharma, a former spokesman for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party who made anti-Islamic comments in May.
Three senior police officials said on Saturday that two other Rajasthan-based Muslim men were being held at his shop in Udaipur, a popular tourist destination, for plotting to kill Teli.
“We have now arrested the two masterminds and previously we arrested two men who committed the heinous crime,” said Prafulla Kumar, a senior police official based in Udaipur.
Kumar said internet services were gradually being restored and security forces remained on alert.
An angry mob, including some lawyers, punched and shoved the four suspects in the murder case as they were brought before a court on Saturday.
Judges at India’s Supreme Court on Friday said Sharma must apologize to the nation as a whole after her remarks deepened religious fault lines in India, angered Islamic nations and sparked diplomatic tensions.
Local media reported a separate incident on June 21 in which a chemist was stabbed to death in the western state of Maharashtra for allegedly supporting Sharma’s comments on social media.
“Five people have been arrested in connection with the pharmacist’s murder and a search is underway for the main suspect,” Aarti Singh, a senior regional police officer, was quoted as saying by the local press.
Singh said the reasons for the murder have yet to be determined.
At least two protesters were shot dead by police in India during protests against Sharma’s remarks.
In Afghanistan, the militant group Islamic State last month claimed that an attack on a Sikh temple, killing at least two people and wounding seven, was in response to insults to the Prophet Muhammad in India.
Police in New Delhi arrested journalist Mohammed Zubair, a vocal critic of the Modi government who helped draw attention to Sharma’s remarks through his fact-checking website Alt News and on social media.
Zubair’s request for bail was denied on Saturday and a local court sentenced him to two weeks in prison, a court order said.
The National Investigative Agency (NIA) – India’s leading counter-terrorism agency – said it was conducting an investigation into Teli’s murder.
A senior NIA official in New Delhi said agents were interviewing Muslims linked to the four defendants in Udaipur to see if they had ties to militant networks.
Muslims, who live about 3 kilometers from the tailor shop, said they were nervous and feared a social and economic boycott by powerful Hindus living in Udaipur.
“I know what was done is barbaric, but the community should not be held responsible for the actions of two people,” said Mohammad Farukh, a medical official who lives in a Muslim-dominated area of the city.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board called the incident “highly condemnable”, adding that it violated both Indian law and Islamic regulations.
(Edited by Jan Harvey and David Holmes)