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India: Brutal murder caught on camera stokes religious tensions

Officials in the western city of Udaipur in Rajasthan state announced a curfew and blocked internet access after videos of the incident went viral on social media, sparking mass outrage across the country.

One video shows two men beginning to attack the victim. In another, two Muslim men appear to confess to the crime and claim to have “decapitated” the Hindu man. However, state police told CNN on Wednesday that the victim had deep lacerations all over his body, including lacerations on his neck, but that he was not decapitated.

India’s Interior Ministry said on Wednesday it had ordered the National Investigation Agency – the country’s main counter-terrorism task force – to investigate the case.

“The involvement of any organization and international connections will be thoroughly investigated,” it said said on twitter.

The two suspects are said to have killed the victim, a tailor, after a post appeared on his social media account in favor of the now-suspended national spokesman for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Nupur Sharma, who made derogatory comments about the Islamic prophet Mohammed made. Rajasthan Police Officer Hawa Singh Ghumaria told CNN on Wednesday.

The victim was arrested on June 12 for allegedly “inciting religious sentiment” and has since been released on bail, Ghumaria said.

The two suspects have been arrested and investigations are ongoing, State Premier Ashok Gehlot wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

State authorities have responded by deploying more than 600 police officers to the area.

“This incident is very shameful,” Ghumaria said during a news conference on Tuesday, before urging the public not to watch the videos and asking for silence.

“There will be tension. There is always tension after an incident like this, but it’s all under control,” he said.

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The killing reignited the flames of an already unstable situation between India’s Hindu majority and its Muslim minority, who make up about 14% of the country’s 1.3 billion people.

Asaduddin Owaisi, an MP and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen political party, condemned the killing and called for the “strictest crackdown” on the suspects.

“There can be no justification for this,” he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “The consistent stance of our party is to oppose such violence. No one can take the law into their own hands.”

Opposition Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi said he was “deeply shocked” by the incident.

“Brutality in the name of religion cannot be tolerated,” he wrote on Twitter. “We must come together to conquer hate. I appeal to all to keep peace and brotherhood.”

Tensions between Hindus and Muslims have remained a constant throughout India’s modern history, occasionally erupting in violence, but analysts and activists say relations have deteriorated since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP took office in 2014 with a Hindu nationalist agenda power have come.

Since then, the ruling party has been repeatedly accused by rights groups, activists and opposition parties of fomenting anti-Muslim sentiment.

The BJP said in a statement on its website earlier this month that the party respects all religions. “The BJP strongly condemns insulting religious figures of any religion,” it said.

Earlier this month, India scrambled to stem the diplomatic fallout when at least 15 Muslim-majority countries condemned Sharma’s remarks about the Prophet Mohammed. The incident sparked uproar among India’s main Arab trading partners and calls from across the Gulf for a boycott of Indian goods.

Protests against her comments turned deadly in India after two Muslim boys were killed in eastern Jharkhand state this month, with an investigation underway to determine who fired the deadly bullets.
The BJP suspended Sharma and the Indian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying their comments “in no way reflect the views of the Indian government”.