NEW DELHI: A vandalised street seen after violence between two groups on Tuesday.—AP
NEW DELHI: A vandalised street seen after violence between two groups on Tuesday.—AP

NEW DELHI: The death toll rose to 13 on Tuesday, with at least 150 injured, from some of the Indian capital’s worst sectarian violence in years as rampaging rioters in several parts of the city set fire to buildings and vehicles, and attacked journalists.

Protests against a contentious citizenship law began on a smaller scale on Sunday but escalated on Monday and Tuesday into running battles between Hindus and Muslims in New Delhi’s north-east, where rioters armed with stones, swords and even guns were out in force.

Police on Tuesday imposed a restriction on large gatherings in the area as the violence continued with reports of stone-pelting and more structures set ablaze.

“I can now confirm 13 deaths. At least 150 people have come to our hospital with injuries,” Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital official Rajesh Kalra said late Tuesday.

“A dozen people were in critical condition,” he added. “We are still receiving some people with injuries, most of them firearm injuries today.”

Political leaders fuelling hatred, says Amnesty

The riots coincided with the visit of US President Donald Trump, who held bilateral meetings with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in Delhi on Tuesday.

Officers set up roadblocks in riot-hit areas and cleared two north-east neighbourhoods of protesters, Delhi Police special commissioner Satish Golcha said.

The capital’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who visited the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, earlier pleaded for the “madness to stop”.

“I appeal to everyone to stop the violence,” the Press Trust of India (PTI) quoted him as saying.

Delhi Police spokesman Mandeep Randhawa pleaded with locals “not to take the law in their own hands”.

National Home Minister Amit Shah, whose ministry controls law and order in the capital region, met with senior Delhi government officials and promised to deploy more police if they were needed, Kejriwal said.

‘No one has come’

An AFP reporter saw at least 10 injured people admitted to Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital over a half-hour period, some claiming to have bullet wounds.

“Since yesterday, we’ve been calling the police to enforce a curfew, to send reinforcements,” Saurabh Sharma, a student from a riot-hit area who took his injured friend to the hospital, said.

“But no one has come. There are only three policemen.”

Senior policeman Alok Kumar earlier on Tuesday said that officers were still receiving reports of violence.

“The protesters are attacking police wherever they are present and clashing among each other where the police aren’t there,” Kumar said.

Broadcaster NDTV said three of its reporters and a cameraman were attacked by a mob on the north-eastern fringe of the city of 20 million people.

“There is hardly any police presence in the area. Rioters are running around threatening people, vandalising shops,” a resident of the poor, migrant neighbourhood of Maujpur told PTI.

At Jaffrabad, an AFP reporter saw locals turn off their lights at home and lock their buildings amid a massive police presence.

Police manning barricades said mobs in the area were threatening journalists and that their officers had come under attack through the day.

The new law has raised worries abroad — including in Washington — that Modi wants to remould secular India into a Hindu nation while marginalising the country’s 200 million Muslims, a claim he denies.

After meetings with Modi, Trump said on Tuesday that the riots were an internal matter for India.

Global rights group Amnesty International tweeted that “political leaders in India who are fuelling hatred and creating a violent environment by making hate speeches must be immediately held accountable”.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2020