Forced to Chant Hindu Slogans, Muslim Man Is Beaten to Death in India

NEW DELHI — After apprehending a Muslim man suspected of stealing a motorcycle, the Hindu mob tied him to a lamppost and reportedly beat him for 12 hours while forcing him to chant praises to Hindu gods. Videos began circulating widely showing the attack last week in eastern India, which went on for so long that some of the footage was in daylight and other parts in darkness.

The police eventually intervened and took the victim, 24-year-old Tabrez Ansari, into custody. But it wasn’t until four days later, on Saturday, that officers in the Indian district of Seraikela-Kharsawan, in the east-central state of Jharkhand, finally took Mr. Ansari to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

The beating has become another signal of the bitter tensions in India between the country’s Hindu majority and its large Muslim minority. Part of the reason that the videos spread so quickly was not so much the vigilante beating — a relatively common occurrence in many areas of India — but the mob’s repeated efforts to force the victim to chant slogans often used by the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, “Hail Lord Ram” and “Hail Hanuman,” referring to Hindu gods.

In the videos, Mr. Ansari is seen crying and pleading for mercy while being beaten with sticks and forced to repeat the chants.

Karthik S., the police superintendent in Seraikela-Kharsawan who goes by a shortened name, said in an interview that Mr. Ansari had appeared well after having been given first aid. But Mr. Karthik was unable to account for what happened over the next four days before Mr. Ansari’s death, adding that an autopsy was pending.

Eleven villagers were taken into custody over the attack, the police said. There were news reports that two officers had been suspended.

Heckling Muslims by invoking Lord Ram’s name has gained prominence since the seating of the new Parliament last week, when followers of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., of Prime Minister Narendra Modi chanted “Hail Lord Ram” as Muslim members took their oaths. One of the Muslim lawmakers, Asaduddin Owaisi, responded by chanting “God is great” in Arabic.

In West Bengal State, the secular-minded chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, has criticized the use of the chant, leading the B.J.P. to threaten to inundate her with “Hail Lord Ram” postcards from its supporters.

In its annual report for 2019, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom found that sectarian strains had increased under Mr. Modi, who won re-election in a landslide victory in May.

The commission, a congressionally mandated government agency, listed India as among the worst countries in the world for religious freedom, grouping it with Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Cuba, and a little ahead of countries including the Central African Republic, Russia and Syria.

“In 2018, religious freedom conditions in India continued a downward trend,” the report said. “Various nationalist groups in India have expanded the ideology of ‘Hindutva,’ or ‘Hindu-ness.’ ”

The release of the report was treated as an affront by the Modi government, which has been preparing for a two-day visit starting on Tuesday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mr. Modi and President Trump are expected to meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting this week in Japan.

Raveesh Kumar, spokesman for the Indian Foreign Ministry, said the American commission, which is independent of the State Department, had no legal standing “to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.”

Religious freedom is not expected to be on the agenda during Mr. Pompeo’s visit. The focus is likely to be on topics such as trade, immigration and the sharing of military technology, with the issue of Iran also high on the agenda, Indian government officials have said.

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