Police arrest 36 after clashes at religious procession in eastern India

KOLKATA (Reuters) – At least 36 people have been arrested in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal after violent clashes disrupted a religious procession, a senior state police official said on Friday.

A few vehicles were set ablaze and some shops were ransacked on Thursday as warring groups threw stones at each other in a neighbourhood of the industrial city of Howrah before police and security forces secured the area, the official said.

Skirmishes continued on Friday in Howrah’s Shibpur district, where Hindus and Muslims have lived together for generations, said the official, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to media.

Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal’s chief minister, said the clashes began after a procession celebrating the Hindu festival of Ram Navami on Thursday diverted from its route to an unauthorised area.

The senior police official said stones were hurled at the procession as it passed through Shibpur.

Banerjee said there were lapses on the part of the police and strong action would be taken in the matter.

State police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Suvendu Adhikari, a leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in the state, said at least 10 party workers had been injured in the clashes and that police had stood by as “spectators” during the violence.

Meanwhile, in Vadodara city, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, police arrested 22 people on Friday for rioting and stone pelting during a Ram Navami procession on Thursday. Six police personnel and five other people were injured in the violence, police said.

“A large mob resorted to stone pelting and damaged public property, including some vehicles in the Fatehpura area of the city,” M.L. Ninama, joint commissioner of Vadodara police, told Reuters.

(Reporting by Subrata Nag Choudhury; Additional reporting by Sumit Khanna in Gujarat; Writing by Shivam Patel in New Delhi; Editing by Gareth Jones)