India’s Muslims mark Eid al-Fitr amid community violence

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SRINAGAR, India — Muslims across India marked Eid al-Fitr on Tuesday by offering prayers outside mosques, with the celebrations this year following a series of attacks against the religious minority during the month of Ramadan.

“We will not have the same kind of festivity” this year, said Mohammad Habeeb ur Rehman, a civil engineer in India’s financial capital, Mumbai. “This is the most painful Eid with the worst memories for Indian Muslims.”

Anti-Muslim sentiment and attacks have surged across the country in the last month, including stone throwing between Hindu and Muslim groups during religious processions and subsequent demolitions by authorities of a number of properties belonging mostly to Muslims.

The community, which makes up 14% of India’s 1.4 billion population, is reeling from vilification by hard-line Hindu nationalists who have long espoused an anti-Muslim stance. While some leaders from India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party tacitly support the violence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi so far has not spoken out.

Eid al-Fitr is typically marked with communal prayers, celebratory gatherings around festive meals, and new clothes, but celebrations in India for the past two years have been marred by COVID-19 restrictions.

In the Indian-controlled portion of disputed Kashmir, the Muslim festival has been subdued for the past three years because of an unprecedented military lockdown after India stripped the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019, followed by the pandemic. The region also saw a rise in violence during Ramadan, with at least 20 militants, two civilians and five police and soldiers killed.

“As we prepare to celebrate Eid, a strong sense of collective loss jars at us,” said Bashir Ahmed, a businessman in Srinagar.

A violent insurgency against Indian rule in the Muslim-majority region and New Delhi’s brutal response have raged for over three decades. The conflict has claimed the lives of tens of thousands.

In India’s capital, New Delhi, hundreds assembled in the Jama Masjid, one of the country’s largest mosques, to offer Eid prayers there for the first time in over two years due to pandemic restrictions. Many people exchanged hugs and best wishes as families gathered in New Delhi on Tuesday morning.

Mohammed Hamid, a software engineer, said he was grateful to be offering prayers at the mosque again.

“It’s a good feeling because there was a lockdown for the past two years. We are grateful for the ability to pray Eid with these children, thanks to the goodness of God,” Hamid stated.

The mood was cheerful in neighboring Bangladesh as millions traveled from cities to towns and villages over the weekend to celebrate Eid. Dhaka’s Kamalapur Railway Station was packed with people.

As in India, Eid celebrations in Bangladesh have been muted for the last two years due to the pandemic. The government is not imposing restrictions this year but instead advises people to adhere to basic health protocol.

Khaleda Akter, a garment worker in Dhaka, said she is traveling to her village and is excited to celebrate with her parents.

“I am very glad that this year we can travel without any trouble,” she said.

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AP journalists Rishi Lekhi in New Delhi and Julhas Alam in Dhaka, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.

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