Death toll rises to 24 as communal frenzy grips Delhi

Updated February 27, 2020

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NEW DELHI: A man speaks on his mobile phone as he walks past a burnt-out mosque on Wednesday.—AFP
NEW DELHI: A man speaks on his mobile phone as he walks past a burnt-out mosque on Wednesday.—AFP

NEW DELHI: At least 24 people were killed and 189 injured in three days of clashes in New Delhi that coincided with US President Donald Trump’s first state visit to India, with the death toll expected to rise as hospitals continue to take in the wounded, authorities said on Wednesday.

Shops, Muslim shrines and public vehicles were left smoldering from violence between Hindu mobs and Muslims protesting a new citizenship law that fast-tracks naturalisation for foreign-born religious minorities of all major faiths in South Asia except Islam.

Twenty-four deaths were reported at two hospitals in New Delhi, officials said.

The clashes were the worst communal riots in the Indian capital in decades. The law’s passage in December earlier spurred massive protests across India that left 23 dead, many of them killed by police.

The dead in this week’s violence included a policeman and an intelligence bureau officer, and the government has banned public assembly in the affected areas.

Police spokesman M.S. Randhawa said 106 people were arrested for alleged involvement in the rioting.

Officials reported no new violence on Wednesday as large police reinforcements patrolled the areas, where an uneasy calm prevailed.

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval toured the northeastern neighborhoods of Delhi where the rioting occurred, seeking to assure fear-stricken residents, including a female student who complained that police had not protected them from mobs who vandalised the area and set shops and vehicles on fire.

While clashes wracked parts of the capital, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted a lavish reception for President Trump, including a rally in his home state of Gujarat attended by more than 100,000 people and the signing of an agreement to purchase more than $3 billion worth of American military hardware.

On Wednesday, Modi broke his silence on the violence, tweeting that peace and harmony are central to (India’s) ethos. “I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times.”

New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kerjiwal called for Home Minister Amit Shah to send the army to ensure peace.

Police characterised the situation as tense but under control. Schools remained closed.

Sonia Gandhi, a leader of the main opposition Congress, called for Amit Shah to resign. She accused Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of creating an environment of hatred and its leaders of inciting violence with provocative speeches that sought to paint Muslim protesters against the citizenship law as anti-nationalists funded by Pakistan.

The New Delhi High Court ordered police to review videos of hate speeches allegedly made by three BJP leaders and decide whether to prosecute them, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

The clashes escalated on Tuesday, according to Rouf Khan, a resident of Mustafabad, an area in the capital’s northeast. Khan said mobs with iron rods, bricks and bamboo sticks attacked the homes of Muslims while chanting “Jai Shri Ram”, or Victory to Lord Ram, the popular Hindu god of the religious epic Ramayana.

As Air Force One flew President Trump and his delegation out of New Delhi late Tuesday, Muslim families huddled in a mosque in the city’s northeast, praying that Hindu mobs wouldn’t burn it down.

After forcing their way inside the homes, they went on a rampage and started beating people and breaking household items, Khan said of the mobs, adding that he and his family had to run and take shelter inside a mosque that he said was guarded by thousands of Muslim men. “I don’t know if our house was burned or not, but when we were running away we heard them asking people to pour kerosene and burn everything down,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2020