India says US politicising Delhi communal violence as death toll hits 32

Updated February 27, 2020

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A man carrying a child walks past security forces in a riot affected area following clashes between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India on February 27. — Reuters
A man carrying a child walks past security forces in a riot affected area following clashes between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India on February 27. — Reuters

India accused a US government commission of politicising communal violence in New Delhi that killed at least 32 people and injured more than 200.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said it was deeply troubled by the violence and cited accounts that police had not intervened in attacks against Muslims, which police and India's federal government have denied.

“The brutal and unchecked violence growing across Delhi cannot continue,” said USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava. “The Indian government must take swift action to ensure the safety of all of its citizens. Instead, reports are mounting that the Delhi police have not intervened in violent attacks against Muslims, and the government is failing in its duty to protect its citizens."

The committee's chair, Tony Perkins, urged "the Indian government to take serious efforts to protect Muslims and others targeted by mob violence".

Meanwhile, India's External Affairs Ministry said the commission's comments were "factually inaccurate and misleading" and appeared to be "aimed at politicising the issue".

Protests against a contentious citizenship law began on a smaller scale on Sunday but escalated on Monday — as US President Donald Trump started his two-day trip to India — 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.

On Thursday, burnt shops and public vehicles stood charred near a highway in Chandbagh, a Muslim-dominated locality. Streets were littered with broken glass and charred petrol bombs as dozens of police in camouflage and helmets patrolled.

Several reports by Indian media outlets said Muslim localities in the Indian capital were attacked by Hindu mobs screaming pro-Hindu slogans. The reports said these mobs rioted with impunity as the police appeared to aid the marauding crowds.

Muslim rioters, too, have been violent, and a number of Hindus, including security personnel, are among the dead and injured.

Most of the violence, however, appeared to be targeting Muslims who complained that while Hindu mobs went on a rampage, the police went missing. Police have denied the allegations.

Hours before the violence first began on Sunday, local politician Kapil Mishra, who is affiliated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, appeared at a rally against the citizenship law's opponents and issued an ultimatum to the police to clear out the demonstrators. He told the crowd at the rally if police wouldn't clear out the demonstrators, he and his followers would do it themselves.

Many people, including Hindus, believe Mishra and his Hindu nationalist supporters stoked the latest riots.

The contentious law that was passed in December fast-tracks naturalisation for foreign-born religious minorities of all major faiths in South Asia except Islam. Nationwide protests followed, with many opponents saying the law is discriminatory and breaks from India's secular traditions.

The supporters of the law, including leaders from Modi's party, have often called the protests anti-Indians funded by the state's enemies.

Trump's first state visit to India included a lavish reception in Modi's home state of Gujarat and talks with the Indian leader, but the US leader said they didn't discuss the violence. Trump declined to comment about the citizenship law, saying he wanted to leave that to India, before departing.

OIC condemns violence against Muslims

Meanwhile, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has condemned the recent and "alarming" violence against Muslims in India.

In a tweet, the body said: "OIC condemns the recent & alarming violence against Muslims in India, resulting in the death & injury of innocent people & the arson and vandalism of mosques and Muslim-owned properties. It expresses its sincere condolences to the families of the victims of these heinous acts."

The OIC called on Indian authorities to bring the instigators and perpetrators of the acts of anti-Muslim violence and to ensure the safety of all the country's Muslim citizens as well as Islamic holy sites across India.