NEW DELHI — Indian authorities Tuesday deployed hundreds of police and suspended the internet in a northern town following the brutal murder of a two-year-old girl over a $144 loan owed by her family.
The mutilated body of the Hindu girl was found on a rubbish dump last Sunday in the Aligarh district of Uttar Pradesh state.
The fact that her alleged killers were from India's minority Muslim community has stoked tensions with the majority Hindu population in the Tappal area where she lived.
Right-wing Hindu groups, including those backing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have led the protests in Tappal, urging authorities to mete out "instant justice" to the perpetrators.
A prominent leader of the far-right Vishwa Hindu Parishad group was stopped by police from visiting the girl's family on Monday, and on Sunday members of another radical group gathered to demand the death penalty for the accused.
The groups also tried to organise a "grand assembly" but police thwarted their attempt.
"We have clamped section 144 (prohibiting unlawful assembly) and internet has been suspended in Tappal," district magistrate Chandra Bhushan Singh told AFP on Tuesday.
"Additional police forces have been deployed as a precautionary measure. The situation is normal as of now."
Police were also clamping down on those sharing fake social media posts which were likely to "inflame communal passions", the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Despite police reporting the child is not believed to have been sexually assaulted, unverified social media posts have claimed otherwise — tapping into deep-seated anger about sexual violence against children in the country.
The Times of India daily reported on Tuesday that a Muslim family in a minibus in the area was allegedly attacked on Sunday by men on motorcycles and only escaped because a Hindu woman was travelling with them.
"They beat me, my daughter who wore a veil and our driver," Shafi Mohammad Abbasi, one of the seven members of the Muslim family, told the newspaper. "Pooja (the Hindu woman) stepped out and boldly confronted the attackers."
Critics accuse Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP of sowing divisions nationally between religious communities in India, around 170 million of whose 1.3 billion people are Muslims.
Under Modi, in power since 2014 and re-elected last month, several cities with names rooted in India's Islamic Mughul past have been re-named and hardliners are hopeful that his second term will see more progress towards Hindu hegemony.
A string of lynchings of Muslims by Hindu mobs over so-called cow protection -- a sacred animal for many Hindus -- and other hate crimes has sown fear and despair in what is the world's second-largest Muslim population.
— Agence France-Presse