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Religious Tensions Simmer in Western India - 2002-03-18


Four people have been killed in clashes between Hindus and Muslims in India's Gujarat state. Religious tensions continue to simmer in western India.

Police in Gujarat state arrested about 40 people after Hindu and Muslim mobs clashed in Ahemedabad city overnight, despite the imposition of a curfew. In Baroda city, two Muslims were killed late Sunday while returning home under police escort. Two other people died in police firing.

Earlier this month, Gujarat was the scene of India's worst Hindu-Muslim clashes in a decade. Tensions have risen as Hindu hardliners continue plans to build a temple on the site of a mosque they destroyed a decade ago.

Angry opposition lawmakers are accusing the government of not doing enough to control the Hindu hardliners. They are demanding action against Hindu activists who stormed and ransacked the Orissa state legislature Saturday, after a lawmaker criticized the temple campaign.

The opposition has also protested remarks by Hindu hardline leader Ramchandra Parmhans, who is threatening to seize the disputed site by force if it is not handed over by the government.

Amid an uproar in parliament, Communist Party leader Somnath Chaterjee accused the Hindu hardliners of showing complete disdain for democratic institutions. "They are deliberately saying, openly saying they will not carry out Supreme Court orders," he objected. "They said they will forcibly go and take over that land. They are marauders in this parliamentary institution!"

The Hindu hardliners say they will continue their campaign to build the temple, despite a Supreme Court ban on all religious activity at the disputed site.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has called the dispute a festering wound and said a way must be found to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, a group closely linked to Hindu hardliners spearheading the temple campaign has created more controversy. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh said it is up to India's minority Muslim community to ensure its own safety by earning the goodwill of the Hindu majority.

Muslims make up about 12 percent of India's one billion population.

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