AHMADABAD, India – Hindu nationalists held angry protest marches and mobs stabbed two Muslim men Thursday in western India as Muslims fled their homes to seek safety, fearing revenge riots after a bloody attack on a Hindu temple.
Paramilitary police deployed in several towns in Gujarat state, and officials said they were confident they could prevent a repeat of the sectarian violence that tore apart the state for three months earlier this year, leaving 1,000 dead, mostly Muslims.
Hindu nationalists, who had called for a national strike to protest the temple raid, were on the streets in the Gujarati town of Baroda, carrying sharp weapons and shouting anti-Pakistan slogans, police said.
Most Indian cities did not observe the strike call Thursday, but it shut down most businesses, schools and transportation in Bombay, India's largest city. Activists shouting slogans and throwing stones stopped some passenger trains in downtown Bombay, and many residents stayed home.
The major cities in Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state, were almost totally shut down, including in Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, where shops and offices were closed and there was no public transport.
In the town of Surat in Gujarat state, Hindu mobs stabbed a Muslim man as he got out of a three-wheeled auto rickshaw, and another Muslim as he came out of his house, said Police Commissioner V.K. Gupta. He said both men were hospitalized and two Hindus had been arrested.
The town is about 190 miles north of Gandhinagar, the state capital, where two gunmen attacked a popular Hindu temple on Tuesday, killing 30 people before police commandos shot them to death 14 hours later. At least 74 people were wounded.
Gupta said army troops were being kept in reserve in Ahmadabad, the state's largest city, while paramilitary police were deployed in Surat and other towns.
"I am very confident that the day will pass off peacefully," said K.R. Kaushik, police commissioner in Ahmadabad, where buses and trucks stayed off the roads, but cars and three-wheeled taxis continued to ply the streets.
The massacre raised fears of Hindu retaliation, such as that which followed a Feb. 27 attack by Muslims on a train carrying Hindu nationalists in Gujarat. Three months of Hindu-Muslim riots followed.
Tension was palpable in some areas. Muslim families fled neighborhoods with no police presence to government camps set up after the earlier violence. One camp, the Quresh Hall, in Ahmadabad jumped to 2,300 residents from 1,300 overnight.
Villagers who had been targeted by roving Hindu gangs in February trooped to the relative safety of towns. Posters condemning the temple attack began appearing in Muslim areas.
"What if there is another backlash?" said Ershad Sayyed, who left his home Wednesday night and to join 100 others in a mosque.
"I am carrying whatever little cash I had, and some clothes. I hope nothing happens," said Maqsud Qureshi. Another refugee, Zubeidan Behlim, said: "I pray that this mindless violence and bloodshed ends soon."
The gunmen in the temple attack have not been identified, but police said they carried a letter saying they "could not tolerate what happened to children, women and Muslims during the Gujarat riots."
India's government leaders accused predominantly Muslim Pakistan of being behind the temple attack, a charge Pakistan denied Wednesday.
There was no sign of compliance with the strike call Thursday in India's capital, New Delhi. Extra police were posted in areas where Hindus and Muslims live close together, and temples and mosques were guarded.
The Indian army sent 3,000 soldiers to Gujarat to guard against any new violence, at the request of the state, which had been criticized for not acting quickly to quell the earlier rioting. Soldiers patrolled Ahmadabad in trucks.
The World Hindu Council and Shiv Sena, groups allied with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, called for the general strike Thursday to protest what they called "jihadi terrorism."
"The strike is to warn that if the government does not act in time, people will take the law into their own hands," Mohan Salekar, the World Hindu Council's general secretary, said.