India: Human chain protects Hindu temple amid riots over Facebook post

Left: Youth volunteers protect a Hindu temple during riots on August 11. Right: The mob set fire to buildings and vehicles until 1 a.m. (Photos: Twitter)
Left: Youth volunteers protect a Hindu temple during riots on August 11. Right: The mob set fire to buildings and vehicles until 1 a.m. (Photos: Twitter)

Riots broke out in Bangalore, India on August 11 after a legislator’s relative allegedly posted a derogatory statement about the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook. A crowd of people gathered outside the politician’s house, stormed two local police stations, and set fire to vehicles in the area. Amid the violence, community youth formed a human chain to protect a Hindu temple near the riots, fearing the mob would damage the place of worship. 

The night of August 11 in Bangalore was marked by arson and mob violence after a mainly Muslim crowd descended on the DJ Halli police station, demanding the investigation of a Facebook post published by the nephew of Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Akhanda Srinivas Murthy. The post, now-deleted, allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad and was published with what some have called “an intention to create violence.” When police hesitated to investigate the offence, the mob grew angrier, leading to a night of destruction. 


“The mob was furious”

Photos and videos posted on social media show a massive crowd of people descending on the police station in northeast Bangalore, the capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka. 

A video posted to Twitter on August 11 shows a large crowd gathered outside the DJ Halli police station.

Student journalist Noor Zahira went to the police station at the beginning of the conflict:


The mob was really furious because a few weeks ago, a similar situation had happened, but it was not an inflammatory post against any faith or any religion, it was against a legislator [Editor’s note: In June, a man was arrested for posting “highly derogatory/objectionable” comments about an Indian chief minister], and within minutes, the police had gone to the accused's home. So people were really saying, ‘If you can take swift action against a person’s post, why can't you do that if it's a religious post?’

MLA Murthy has said that he is not in touch with his nephew, identified as P. Naveen Kumar, who shared the post. Meanwhile, Kumar claims that his account was hacked when the post was published. 

Police have since arrested Kumar, but after officers failed to immediately take action, thousands of Muslims gathered outside the gates of the police station in protest. 


Defusing Hindu-Muslim tensions

Fearing that the growing mob would damage Hindu places of worship in the Muslim-majority neighbourhood, a group of youth volunteers began to gather around a nearby Hindu temple. 

In a video posted to Twitter on August 11, we can see a human chain of volunteers protecting the Hanuman temple in Bangalore.

Zahira witnessed the show of solidarity: 


There were people who were thinking that since the Muslim mob attacked the police station, there are chances that they could attack the temple that was just a few lanes down from the police station. To prevent any sort of communal disharmony, a few youth volunteers from the community went and stood outside the temple safeguarding the premises. It is a Hindu-minority area so they didn’t want them to be at risk. They stood there and made sure nobody touched any place of worship so that today or tomorrow, the communal harmony wouldn’t be spoiled and lead to even bigger riots.

There was a situation in February, the Delhi riots [Editor’s note: 53 people died in violent riots in Delhi in February, fueled by religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims. Read more on], and we want to avoid any such event at any cost in Bangalore. A lot of educated Muslim advocates, leaders and people with higher responsibility and social status stepped in and spoke to the crowd, told them that it is time to go the direction of peace.

The human chain successfully deterred members of the mob who came to attack the Hindu temple. While no damage was done to the place of worship, the scene at the police station nearby degenerated quickly.  


Police station vandalised, vehicles set ablaze

Zahira continues:

This is a new police station and has high security. The gates are really, really tall and really strong. They could not really break into the gate and move it. But a police car had to go inside the police station, so the gate had to be opened. In that particular moment, the mob broke into the police station and torched the whole basement of the police station. The building was charred, the glass was pelted with stones.


A video posted on Twitter August 11 shows protesters breaking windows of the police station using stones and branches after they penetrated the gates. 

Zahira recalled that after using tear gas and shooting into the air to try to disperse protesters, police shot into the crowd. Three people were killed, according to police. 

After shots were fired, the mob began to move towards a different police station, KG Halli. Others gathered at the legislator’s home, setting it and a house next door ablaze. MLA Murthy and his family were not at home when the fires were started.  The protesters also set fire to vehicles in their path, reportedly destroying more than 50 civilian automobiles and 200 impounded vehicles parked at DJ Halli station.

A video posted to Twitter on August 11 shows the crowd of people descending on the legislator’s home, just a few blocks from the DJ Halli police station. 

Protesters can be seen flipping cars and lighting a motorcycle on fire in a video posted on August 11. 

A video taken from above the riots, posted August 11, shows the crowd in the street and vehicles on fire. 

Both political and religious officials have condemned the violence and destruction in Bangalore. 

Authorities have imposed a curfew on the neighbourhood where the riots broke out and instituted Section 144, a code that prohibits the gathering of four or more people, throughout the city. Authorities say that up to 75 police officers and many other civilians were injured in the clashes. Police have arrested more than 150 people so far.

Article written by Pariesa Young