Muslim man arrested for wrapping meat in newspaper with images of Hindu deities

He was arrested following a complaint by a far-right Hindu group

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A Muslim eatery owner was arrested in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by selling meat items wrapped in a newspaper with pictures of Hindu deities printed on them.

Talib Hussain was arrested in Sambhal following a complaint on Sunday by far-right Hindu group Hindu Jagran Manch district president Kailash Gupta. According to the police complaint, Mr Hussain allegedly tried to attack police officers with a knife at the time of the arrest.

A worker at the eatery stated that his employer had bought newspapers from a scrap shop and was using them to pack food for customers, a standard practice in all small eateries. "We did not realise that the newspapers had pictures of Hindu gods. We didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings," the worker told the Times of India.

Mr Hussain had been running the eatery since 2012 and routinely used newspapers for packing food, his family said.

"Does anyone look at the headlines of a newspaper or the photos carefully before using it as a wrapper? Can anyone be sent to jail for this? He has never hurt anyone's sentiments," the kin was quoted by the Indian daily as saying.

Local police said Mr Hussain used newspapers to pack food which had pictures of deities published by a Hindi language daily earlier during the Hindu festival of Navratra.

He has been booked under three sections of the Indian Penal Act for "promoting enmity between different groups", "deliberate act intended to outrage religious feelings" and "attempt to murder".

"We seized the offensive material and since the matter is sensitive we immediately registered a first information report and arrested the owner," circle officer Jitendra Kumar said.

His arrest comes amid reports of a clampdown on minorities in the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled state, which authorised the demolition of several Muslim homes last month for being allegedly involved in riots that were triggered by derogatory remarks made against prophet Muhammad.

Critics of prime minister Narendra Modi have accused the federal government of violating the rights of minorities and orchestrating the erosion of religious freedom in India. The US state department’s annual report on international religious freedom stated that religious minorities in India faced intimidation throughout 2021.

“Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year. These included incidents of ‘cow vigilantism’ against non-Hindus based on allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef,” the report said.

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