NEW DELHI — India deployed thousands of police officers and army troops to a region in the north of the country on Monday after weekend confrontations between Hindus and Muslims caused the death of at least 30 people and grave injuries of many more, according to the police.
Widespread clashes were set off by the killing of two Hindu youths on Aug. 27 near the city of Muzaffarnagar, about 80 miles north of New Delhi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
With a pivotal parliamentary election approaching, political combatants immediately started pointing fingers of blame at one another. Among the scores of people who have been charged in connection with the events are state legislators from the Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist party that hopes to win back the parliamentary majority next spring.
Officials say the explosion of violence was fed by a video clip that circulated on the Internet and through social media last week, purportedly showing the lynching of the two young men.
The clip was “very provocative and spread like wildfire,” but was not authentic, having been shot several years ago on the border with Afghanistan, Kaushal Raj Sharma, a top official from Muzaffarnagar, said in an interview.
About 5,000 farmers gathered on Saturday to demand action against the killings, and when the police ordered them to disperse and return to their homes, they “indulged in violence,” killing 13 people, Sharma commented.
Over the next two days, groups began fighting with knives, sticks, bricks, stones, swords and iron rods, quickly spreading to nearby villages. As of Monday afternoon, just over half of the people killed were Muslims, Sharma said.
Dozens of Muslim families were seen leaving the area Sunday night, their possessions piled onto carts drawn by horses and bullocks. Refugees spoke of roving groups of armed men who would attack whole families, including children.
The police have arrested 160 people, Sharma stated. Thousands of security forces have been deployed in the area, including about 2,500 riot police officers and roughly 800 soldiers.