In an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, more than a hundred retired senior civil servants called for an end to hate and ''vigilante violence'' that they said had ''embedded itself deep in the recesses of the structures, institutions and process of governance.''

''The administration of law, instead of being an instrument of maintaining peace and harmony, has become th
e means by which the minorities can be kept in a state of perpetual fear,'' the letter said.

Another group of retired officials countered with a letter of support for Mr. Modi calling the concerns ''empty virtue signalling.''

KHARGONE, INDIA : Clashes and fears are rising towards perpetual violence. In India, religious tensions have led to hard penalties for Muslim communities.

THE AUTHORITIES sent bulldozers to Khargone, a small city in central India, within 24 hours of clashes between Hindus and Muslims that turned into a mob-fueled rampage.

The Hindus said stones had been thrown from the direction of a mosque, where Muslims had been breaking their Ramadan fasts. The Muslims said people in a Hindu procession had moved towards them while chanting provocatively.

Before any investigation or court ruling, the home minister of Madhya Pradesh State appeared to fault the Muslims and ordered demolitions - the same swift one-sided punishment imposed in two other states following recent clashes.

''The houses from where the stones were pelted, we will turn the houses into a pile of stone,'' said Narottam Mishra, the home minister.

The communal tensions in Khargone, New Delhi and Gujarat.- and the demonstrations that followed in each - are part of a worrisome new pattern, analysts, activists and former civil servants say.

In the past, such clashes, although often deadlier, were usually ignited by a local issue and would remain contained to a single area. The trigger for the 2002 Gujarat riots that left more than 1,000 dead was a train fire that killed dozens of Hindu pilgrims.

The recent violence, which followed the most widespread communal tensions in recent years, occurred in several states. Those tensions have been rooted in the rhetoric of right-wing groups at the national level that have singled out Muslims and that have been emboldened by the silence of the country's top leaders.

ANALYSTS, activists and former civil servants say that the clashes will become more frequent, pushing the nation into a cycle of violence and instability.

The nationwide provocations by right-wing activists, which spread through social media, have inspired local groups that have increasingly turned religious occasions into political events promoting a Hindu-first vision of India that relegates minorities to the status of second-class citizens.

When the recent tensions escalated into violence last month, the authorities in those places rushed to impose punishments that disproportionately affected Muslims, in ways that circumvented the legal process.

After clashes in New Delhi, demolitions, mainly of Muslim-run shops or kiosks, continued for nearly two hours after India's chief justice ordered a halt.

Bulldozers destroyed tea stalls and ripped out staircases that left a family stranded. They destroyed the walls of a mosque before stopping short of a nearby Hindu temple.

Officials in the three states justified the razing, saying that they were preventing illegal encroachment. But the timing, along with speeches by local politicians calling for the demolitions, suggested a link to the clashes, according to activists and analysts.

''I fear that we are in a state of perpetual violence,'' said Asim Ali, a researcher who has studied the rise of Hindu nationalism, known as Hindutva.

''Social media and 24/7 news channels mean that Hindutva groups, which are now very technologically savvy, graft into the local context any hot-button communal issue that takes place anywhere in the country,'' he said.

In the days after the Khargone clashes, nearly 150 people were arrested. Riyajuddinn Sheikh, a Muslim social worker, said community leaders compiled lists showing about 125 of the people arrested were Muslims.

A majority of the homes and shops destroyed by bulldozers belonged to Muslims.

The World Students Society thanks authors Hari Kumar, Mujib Mashal and Suhasini Raj.


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