Thousands staged protests in India’s Assam state on Friday, a day after two people were killed when hundreds clashed with police over the state government’s eviction of Muslim families from their homes.
Assam’s government has faced widespread condemnation over the tactics used to eject the families, with critics pointing to them as the latest example of discrimination against Muslims under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi called the police use of guns against protesters “state-sponsored fire”. Police said they were attacked with machetes and bamboo sticks.
Assam’s chief minister Himanta Biswas Sarma, a BJP member, said the police were only doing their duty, but halted the evictions on Friday.
Authorities had imposed an indefinite ban on gatherings in the northeastern state after a social media video from Thursday’s protests showed police with batons raining down blows on a man.
But on Friday Gandhi’s Congress party organised a rally in Darrang, where the evictions took place, while thousands more took part in another demonstration outside the Darrang district headquarters.
Other rallies were organised by student groups, with some burning an effigy of the chief minister.
In New Delhi, a dozen students were detained by police as they too protested against the incident.
The viral video from Thursday showed police in riot gear beating a protestor who had fallen to the ground seconds after gunshots were heard.
A photographer, hired by district officials to film the evictions, jumped on the man and was seen punching the body multiple times.
The photographer has since been arrested, according to police.
Leaders of India’s 170 million Muslims say they have been unfairly targeted since Modi’s party came to power in 2014.
They say a controversial nationality law that sparked riots in Delhi in 2020, and hate crimes including lynchings, have all increased fear in their community.