By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
NEW DELHI, India – Today, the body of Bal Thackeray, a controversial Hindu nationalist and politician, was cremated in Mumbai. Prior to the cremation, hundreds of thousands filled the streets to pay their respects.
According to Indian Express, political leaders, celebrities, allies and rivals attended the funeral, which took place at Shivaji Park. This event marked as Mumbai’s first public funeral since 1920.
“As far as I know, this is the first time since independence that a person has been cremated at a public platform in the city,” shared former Mumbai Police Commissioner Julio Ribeiro.
Suffering from respiratory and pancreatic difficulties, Mr. Thackeray passed away on Saturday.
Mr. Thackeray founded the right-wing Shiv Sena party in 1966 and possessed a hefty following before his death. He was also influential in the renaming of Bombay to Mumbai in order to separate itself from its colonial past.
According to BBC, Mr. Thackeray is one of the “most divisive figures in Indian politics” and has allegedly used the Shiv Sena party as vehicle to keep South Indian migrants out of Maharashtra and thwart the spread of Islam.
“Only Marathis [residents of Maharashtra] have the first right over Mumbai,” Mr. Thackeray wrote last year in the Shiv Sena newspaper.
In 2002 and 2008, Mr. Thackeray urged Hindus to create suicide squads to combat Muslims. Furthermore, in 1992 and 1993, the Indian government launched an inquiry into the riots in Mumbai and subsequently attributed Shiv Sena members for administering attacks on Muslims.
Thus, Mr. Thackeray is accused of inciting and exacerbating tensions between Hindus and Muslims.
When accused of harboring anti-Muslim sentiment, Mr. Thackeray denied such allegations. Moreover, authorities never convicted Mr. Thackeray of any offence.
For further information, please see:
BBC News – Bal Thackeray funeral: Thousands mourn right wing leader – 18 November 2012
IBNlive – Bal Thackeray’s funeral the first on public ground since 1947 – 18 November 2012
Indian Express – State funeral for Bal Thackeray, calm city lines – 18 November 2012