Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures while delivering a speech as part of India's 72nd Independence Day celebrations at the Red Fort in New Delhi on Aug. 15. (Photo by AFP)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has condemned acts of violence committed against minorities in the country, but critics say his comments come too late.
In a Q&A interview with Times of India, Modi said state governments should take steps to check mob violence and protect innocent citizens irrespective of who they are in reference to minorities.
"I want to make it clear that mob lynching is a crime, no matter the motive. No person can, under any circumstances, take the law into his or her own hands and commit violence," Modi said in the article published on Aug. 11, just four days ahead of India's Independence Day.
"I also expect that everyone — society, people at large, government and government functionaries and political parties — has a duty to fight this menace."
Modi heads the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who control the national government in New Delhi. It is his first condemnation of violence committed against minority groups in India since he came to power four years ago.
Government critics say Modi's comments are very belated, with senior television journalist Rajdeep Sardesai questioning how the interview was conducted in the first place.
"[I] was wondering why there were no follow-up questions. Then I saw it was an email interview. Looks like some bureaucrat [or] staffer has written it out! Guess this is the 'new' way of political communication and media mgt!" Sardesai wrote on Twitter.
For Saurbh Kumar, a political commentator based in northern Uttar Pradesh, Modi was "silent for the last four years when Muslims and Dalit people were attacked by fanatic groups in broad daylight and mercilessly killed."
Kumar said many lives could have been saved had Modi disowned such actions earlier and asked officials and ministers to act against law breakers.
However, Showkat Ali, a civil rights activist in New Delhi, said Modi's comments should not be viewed cynically.
"It is better late than never," Ali said. "We are hopeful that what Modi has said will be translated into action so that no new incident of mob lynching is witnessed anywhere in the country against Dalits and Muslims," he said.
According to a recent India Spend survey, between January 2017 and July 5, 2018, mob violence in India has killed 33 people and injured at least 99.
Muslims have been the target of 51 percent of violence centered on cow related incidents during 2010 to 2017. The vast majority of those killed in such incidents were also Muslims. India Spend's survey said 97 percent of these types of attacks were reported after Modi's government came to power in May 2014.
Most of those killed by hard-line Hindus were accused of trading cows for slaughter or transporting or storing beef.
Orthodox Hindus regard cows as holy and their slaughter is banned in most Indian states. Since Modi's party assumed power in 2014, the ban has been used by Hindu nationalists to justify attacks on Muslims in public. In many cases those people killed for beef were actually storing mutton or water buffalo meat.