Uneasy calm descends over Delhi as riots toll hits 38

Updated February 28, 2020

Email

This file photo from Feb 24 shows demonstrators gathered along a road scattered with stones following clashes between supporters and opponents of a new citizenship law in New Delhi. — AFP
This file photo from Feb 24 shows demonstrators gathered along a road scattered with stones following clashes between supporters and opponents of a new citizenship law in New Delhi. — AFP

NEW DELHI: Tensions remai­ned high in India’s capital on Thursday, as thousands of riot police and paramilitaries patrol­led streets littered with the debris from days of violence that left 38 people dead, most of them Muslims.

An uneasy calm has descended over the affected northeast fringes of Delhi, punctuated by sporadic outbreaks of violence overnight.

The unrest was the latest bout of violence over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s citizenship law, which triggered months of demonstrations that turned deadly in December.

Sunil Kumar, director of the Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) Hospital, said on Thursday it had registered 34 deaths, adding that “all of them had gunshot injuries”.

The chief doctor at Lok Nayak Hospital said three people had died there.

Erdogan denounces India for ‘massacres of Muslims’

Another victim died at Jag Parvesh Chander Hospital, an official said.

Kishore Singh, medical superintendent at Lok Nayak Hospital, said 10 people were still in a serious condition.

Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday said families of those who died, were injured or had their businesses and homes destroyed during the rampage would be compensated.

Food and other support would also be provided to trashed neighbourhoods, he added.

Police said they had detained or arrested more than 500 suspects for questioning, and had also starting holding “peace committee meetings” across the megacity to “improve inter-community harmony”.

The new fatalities — up from 27 on Wednesday — were all from the violence on Monday and Tuesday when mobs of Hindus and Muslims fought running battles, except for one from Wednesday.

The initial violence erupted late Sunday.

Groups armed with swords and guns set fire to thousands of properties and vehicles.

Homes, shops, two mosques, two schools, a tyre market and a fuel station were torched.

More than 200 people were also injured.

Delhi police spokesman Mandeep Randhawa told AFP that there was “no major incident” overnight, while the city’s chief fire officer Atul Garg said they received 19 distress calls.

‘Gun down traitors’

In December at least 30 people were killed, mostly in police action in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to a significant Muslim population, after the citizenship law was passed.

Many of India’s 200 million Muslims fear the citizenship law — combined with a mooted citizens’ register — will leave them stateless or even sent to detention camps.

They and critics see Modi’s right-wing ruling party, which is linked to once-banned militaristic Hindu group RSS, as wanting to turn officially secular India into a Hindu nation.

His party has denied the allegations but in recent weeks BJP politicians, in an ugly recent campaign for Delhi elections, called the demonstrators “anti-nationals” and “jihadists”.

One BJP leader, Parvesh Verma, said protestors “could enter houses and rape and kill your sisters”, while another, Anurag Thakur, encouraged a crowd to chant “gun down traitors”.

A call on Sunday by another BJP politician, Kapil Mishra, for “Hindus” to clear a northeastern Delhi sit-in protest is being seen as the spark for the current unrest.

On Wednesday a Delhi High Court judge, Justice S. Muralidhar, sharply criticised the police and called on them to investigate BJP politicians for inciting violence.

Muralidhar was transferred to another state court in a late-night order, prompting a social media storm. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad insisted it was a “routine transfer”.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on India’s political leaders to “prevent violence”, while the Organisation of the Islamic Conference said it “condemns the recent and alarming violence against Muslims in India”.

On Wednesday the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises Washington but does not set policy, voiced “grave concern” about the violence as President Donald Trump was visiting.

Trump, asked at a news conference in the capital about the violence, said the issue was “up to India” and praised Modi’s “incredible” statements on religious freedom.

Turkish, US reaction

In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hit out against “massacres” of Muslims in India.

“India right now has become a country where massacres are widespread. What massacres? Massacres of Muslims. By who? Hindus,” Erdogan said during a speech in Ankara.

Erdogan accused the mobs attacking Muslims of hurting children studying in private tuition centres with “metal sticks as if to kill” them.

“How will these people make global peace possible? It is impossible. When making speeches -- since they have a large population -- they say `we are strong’ but that is not strength,” Erdogan added.

Meanwhile, the United States urged India to respect the right to peaceful assembly and called on all sides to refrain from violence.

In a cautious statement, the top US diplomat for South Asia sought to show little distance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was welcoming President Donald Trump on a visit when the violence erupted.

“We echo (Modi’s) call for calm and normalcy and urge all parties to maintain peace, refrain from violence and respect the right of peaceful assembly,” Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells wrote on Twitter.

Bernie Sanders, the Democratic front-runner seeking to challenge Trump in November elections, denounced Trump’s response to the “widespread anti-Muslim mob violence”. “Trump responds by saying, `That’s up to India’. That is a failure of leadership on human rights,” Sanders tweeted.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2020