'Capital city, apocalyptic state': Indian journalists react to New Delhi protests

The Indian govt's lack of response to the violent riots has drawn criticism from Indian journalists.
Published February 25, 2020

India on Tuesday deployed paramilitary force in multiple areas of New Delhi to contain a recent spell of rioting which claimed the lives of nine people and left more than 150 injured, Times of India reported.

The clashes had erupted in a northeastern district of the city on Monday between thousands of people demonstrating for and against the new citizenship law. Police used tear gas and smoke grenades but struggled to disperse the stone-throwing crowds that tore down metal barricades and set vehicles and a petrol pump alight.

Explainer: What does India's new citizenship law mean?

But as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday continued to pull out all the stops for US President Donald Trump, who is currently visiting the country on an official two-day trip, protests in New Delhi between supporters and opponents of the new citizenship law raged on.

On Twitter, #DelhiRiots, #DelhiBurning, #DelhiViolence were among the top ten trends for India on Tuesday.

To curb the violence, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah called for a meeting with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, and Lt Governor Anil Baijal as well as representatives from all political parties, Times Of India reported.

However, the Indian government's lack of response has drawn criticism from journalists who have accused officials of turning a blind eye to the situation, and for failing to protect citizens from angry mobs attacking people based on their religion.

Rana Ayyub, from the Washington Post, called out the New Delhi police for standing as "mute spectators".

In a tweet, she said: "Live visuals of rioting and mob violence emerging from North Delhi yet again. And of course they wont call the army yet [.... ] Let more lives be lost while [Amit Shah] and [Narendra Modi] play familiar politics associated with them."

"Events leading up to the rioting in Delhi have strong resemblance to the carnage in Gujarat, in Bombay and in Delhi 1984. Where cops were given a free hand to enable rioters, leaders of the ruling party gave inflammatory speeches. This is all too bloody familiar," she said.

NDTV's Nidhi Razdan recounted how two of her colleagues were beaten by a mob, that only pulled back once they realised the journalists were Hindu.

Two of my colleagues [...] were badly beaten by a mob just now in Delhi, they only stopped beating them after realising they are 'our people'. Absolutely despicable."

Journalist Ghulam Jeelani recounted how protesters, armed with sticks, threatened him in Delhi as he was in the midst of reporting.

"Never before in my ten year-long career has my Muslim identity come in the way of reporting. A group of men and women, armed with sticks, on Moujpur Chowk threatened me, Aap Mohameden hain, phir humse mat kehna (You are a Muslim, do not hold us responsible for what may happen). This [was] when cops outnumbered locals. Very tense situation here."

Taking to Twitter, he explained how it was "almost impossible" for journalists to move towards the affected areas.

"A journalist trying to shoot with his phone, when asked, said his name was Sunil and the angry woman responded, Kalawa to nahi pehna hai," he said; the thread is considered to be sacred and worn by almost all Hindus.

BBC correspondent Yogita Limaye also called the situation "volatile", questioning the absence of law enforcement agencies.

In a tweet, she said: "Very volatile in Yamuna Vihar. We’ve seen mobs of men carrying sticks and stones. There’s been arson. We were being stopped from filming."

Journalist Prem Panicker called the protests "planned, targeted violence".

"Abdication by the police and first responders. Silence from the government. It is the old, familiar playbook — with the two pastmasters running it."

India Today anchor Rajdeep Sardesai stated: "We have been sitting on an edge of a volcano for months. Shrill communal rhetoric, street protests, an angry, minority, a partisan state, criminal gangs, toxic propaganda. Lava has burst forth. Desperately need bridge builders before it it too late!"

Taking to Twitter, he revealed that BJP officials were told to refrain from commenting on the situation while Trump is visiting.

"For weeks, a few motormouths defended the ‘goli maaro’ rhetoric because of vote bank politics. Now images of street violence have embarrassed the leadership. Hope lesson learnt."

CNN correspondent Runjhun Sharma questioned the absence of police officials as houses in northeast Delhi were burned to the ground.

"As houses are being burned to the ground in Khazoori Khas in North East Delhi — there is NO police present in the area. This is 3rd day of #DelhiRiots. Why is this still on," she said on Twitter.

Barkha Dutt from the Washington Post maintained that the violence in Delhi had taken a "distinct communal turn".

In a tweet, she said: "We are choosing to not show some of the videos in interest of not inflaming the situation further. But there is urgent need for this situation to brought under control. #Delhi."

Tweeting a picture of Delhi, Hindustan Times' Proma Mukherjee simply said, "capital city, apocalyptic state".

Header Image: People stand on a street during clashes between hundreds of supporters and opponents of a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India on Feb 24. — AP