Six people, including a member of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have been arrested by Delhi Police after videos circulating on social media showed a group of people shouting violent anti-Muslim slogans in the middle of Delhi.
Ashwini Upadhyay, a lawyer accredited to the Supreme Court and former spokesperson of Narendra Modi’s BJP, was arrested on Tuesday after he was reported to be one of the organisers of the gathering.
The protest march was originally called to speak out against “Colonial-era laws”, organisers told Indian media, with hundreds of people gathering at Jantar Mantar, a historic protest site in the heart of Delhi.
But videos on social media appeared to show that at least some participants in the protest joined in various offensive slogans including some calling for violence against Indian Muslims.
In one of the clips widely circulated online, a group can be heard chanting slogans in Hindi that translate as: “If you want to live in India, you must say Jai Shri Ram (Hail Lord Ram - a Hindu deity).”
The incident took place barely a kilometre away from India’s parliament and the videos circulating on social media platforms triggered widespread outrage. People asked why Delhi Police allowed the gathering to continue, and questioned how it took two days for any arrests to be made.
Mr Upadhyay and the other suspects were called by Delhi Police for questioning over the slogans on Monday, and continued to be questioned late into the night.
In a series of tweets and in comments to Indian media, he accepted calling the protests but denied any role in the anti-Muslims slogans, suggesting they only involved a fringe element of those attending.
In a series of Hindi tweets posted on his account, Mr Upadhyay said: “Till the time the terrible British laws aren’t changed to better laws, separatism, extremism and sectarianism will exist.”
Earlier, Shipra Srivastava, the media in-charge of the group behind the gathering, told Indian media outlets that there is no link between the leaders of the protest and those who made the offensive chants.
“The protest was held against colonial laws demanding the abolition of 222 British laws. We have seen the video, but have no idea who they are. The police should take strict action against those who raised the slogans,” Ms Srivastava had said.
Police identified those they suspected to be involved in the sloganeering as Deepak Singh Hindu, who claims to be president of an outfit called the Hindu Force, Vineet Kranti, Uttam Malik. and Pinky Bhaiya, who belongs to another extremist organisation called Hindu Raksha Dal (Hindu Protection Group).
The Delhi Police have registered a formal complaint against the accused and said they are in the process of identifying more people involved. The Indian Express earlier reported that the gathering lacked the necessary permissions from the police.
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