The Indian Muslim student beaten for posing with his female classmates

A schoolboy lying across a five female classmates Image copyright Unknown source

What's wrong with this picture?

To many, it won't seem particularly risque. But the image is of young men and women mixing in a conservative part of southern India, and seems to have provoked a violent incident of "moral policing". It's also being taken as a sign of anti-Muslim violence by Hindu vigilante groups.

The image - of three Indian students posing with their female classmates - was first shared by friends on Whatsapp. A young man sprawls playfully across a group of women, while two other men appear in the background. So far, so seemingly innocent. But reports in the Indian press say that one of the boys was hunted down by a gang of locals in Mangalore, India, driven to an isolated location and badly beaten, before being driven back. According to one news site the victim of the attack is the one on the left, Mohammed Riyaz, a 20-year-old computer science student.

It appears he was beaten up after someone else saw the WhatsApp message. But why would anyone do that?

One reason appears to lie in the man's name. Riyaz and his male friends are Muslim, while the women in the picture are believed to be Hindu. The police have not yet identified the suspects, but the region is home to a number of Hindu vigilante groups. "After the photograph was circulated on social media sites, a vigilante group got other students from the college to identify the deviant youth and on learning that he was probably a Muslim, decided to attack him," Assistant Commissioner of Police Ravi Kumar told The Indian Express.

Another possible reason for the attack is the flirtatious nature of the photograph. The incident appears to be latest example of "moral policing" in the country, in which conservative Hindu groups take issue with perceived moral indiscretions, and take matters into their own hands. Public displays of affection seem to be deemed particularly offensive and, as we reported on Valentine's Day on this blog, Hindu groups said that this year they would confront unmarried couples in public and compel them to marry on the spot. In November last year, a cafe was vandalised when a TV report showed young couples kissing inside. BBC Trending reported on the series of "Kiss of Love" protests, in which young people staged public kissing events in acts of defiance.

According to the Indian Express newspaper, Riyaz's father has registered a complaint with the police, who have filed a case of abduction and attempt to murder. P.L. Dharma is a professor of political science at Mangalore University. Although he was shocked by the incident, he tells BBC Trending it was not unusual for the area, where religious conflict is commonplace. "Gandhi ought to make a come back," he says.

Blog by Sam Judah

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