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Hafiz Mohammed Naseerudin says that after a police officer assaulted him for being a Muslim and blamed him for spreading the coronavirus, he was left lying on the road for almost an hour.

Naseerudin, 44, had gone to pick up some vegetables from his friend’s house in Humnabad, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, when he says an officer stopped him on his scooter.

Other vehicles were on the road, Naseerudin says — he believes he was stopped because of his religion.

“I am an imam, so I look and dress very Muslim. I also have a long beard,” he says. “The cop started hitting me and saying that it is because of me and my community that this disease is spreading.”

Nagesh D L, police superintendent of Bidar district where Humnabad is located, says the officer has been suspended while an inquiry was conducted into the incident. Naseerudin says he called the police from hospital to make a statement, but Nagesh claims they did not receive any complaint.

Naseerudin is not alone: As fears over the coronavirus mount in India, some Muslims, who make up roughly 200 million of the country’s 1.3 billion population, have been targeted in Islamophobic attacks and accused of spreading the virus.

In the capital New Delhi, volunteers distributing ration kits to Muslim families say they face harassment from police and are scared to go out. In Punjab, Muslim milk producers say they have been threatened by villagers, their houses have been raided by police, and people are scared to buy their produce.

While these incidents have been mostly isolated, the virus fears are only amplifying existing prejudices, playing into growing Hindu nationalism which in recent years has seen India’s Muslim societies increasingly marginalized.

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