A 20-year-old male Muslim student in India was hospitalized after an attack associated with his appearance in a seemingly innocuous photograph with some of his female Hindu classmates. The image began circulating via social media Feb. 20 and showed a male student lying on the laps of five female students who attend a college near Mangalore, a conservative city in southern India where tensions between the two religious groups remains heightened.
— IBTimes UK (@IBTimesUK) February 26, 2015
Mohammed Riyaz, who appeared on the far left of the photo, was wrongly identified as the student who was lying across the girls’ laps. Upon seeing his name and assuming he is Muslim, a Hindu vigilante group attacked him, according to Ravi Kumar, an assistant commissioner of police cited by the Indian Express.
Riyaz told a local news agency he was taken to a remote location where he sustained injuries to his legs, arms, chest and head. He was eventually dumped on a road about 9.5 miles outside Suratkal. He called his father, who contacted the police.
“I kept telling them that I had not posed, I didn’t take the photo, so why did they want me?” Riyaz told the News Minute Feb. 23, adding that he suspects two of his friends may have been involved in the attack on himself. They had allegedly convinced Riyaz to meet at the remote location where he was ambushed by the gang.
The Mangalore region is known for its moral policing, as right-wing groups oppose any kind of Western influence, including interfaith relationships between Muslims and Hindus.
On Valentine’s Day, conservative groups vowed to force-marry couples who engaged in public displays of affection. If any male “caught” was not Hindu, he would be made to attend a “purification process” to become one, Ashok Sharma, vice president of Hindu Mahasabha, a conservative Hindu religious organization, told the Los Angeles Times. A similar incident took place in January when as many as 100 Indian Christians were reportedly “reconverted” to the Hindu faith by the nationalist group Vishnu Hindu Parishad, or VHP.
Riyaz, who is a senior studying computer science, said he is friends with the girls in the photo. “All of us have been very close since the first year. If we were not close, would they [the girls] permit?” Riyaz told the News Minute. “See the photo. They are all smiling. If it was forced, then would the girls be smiling?”