Muslims pray under police watch in New Delhi

Updated February 29, 2020

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Paramilitary police patrolled the streets outside, still littered with broken shards of glass, stones and other debris. — Delhi Sabha
Paramilitary police patrolled the streets outside, still littered with broken shards of glass, stones and other debris. — Delhi Sabha

NEW DELHI: Muslims in India’s capital held Friday prayers under the watch of riot police, capping a week which saw 42 killed and hundreds injured during the city’s worst bloodletting in decades.

Scores of mosques in New Delhi’s northeast held their first sermons since mobs armed with swords, guns and acid razed parts of the district on Monday.

The violence was triggered by protests against a citizenship law seen by as anti-Muslim and part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda.

Paramilitary police patrolled the streets outside, still littered with broken shards of glass, stones and other debris.

Dozens of volunteers stood outside the main mosque in the neighbourhood of Mustafabad, home to some of the week’s worst violence, urging devotees to disperse immediately after prayers.

“These are testing times. We have to be patient,” said the imam, after calling on his congregation to stay calm.

Fear and tension were rampant through the neighbourhood, with police barring Muslim worshippers from what was left of one of several mosques set ablaze by Hindu rioters on Monday.

Nearby, a group of residents in the Hindu-dominated Shiv Vihar area blocked the lane leading to one of the local mosques with the burnt-out frames of motorcycles.

“We don’t want violence,” said Saleem Mirza, as police told Muslims to disperse to avoid any fresh trouble.

“We want to live in peace, work for our children and live a normal life. We prayed for peace for everyone today.”

India’s new citizenship law has triggered months of demonstrations between anti-government demonstrators and police. At least 30 people died in protests last year, mainly in Uttar Pradesh.

Many of the country’s 200 million-strong Muslim minority fear the law — combined with a mooted citizens’ register — will leave them stateless.

Modi has sought to allay the fears, but in recent weeks politicians from the prime minister’s right-wing party have called the demonstrators “anti-national” and “traitor”.

Police said on Friday they had detained hundreds of people and were keeping a heavy presence in the capital’s north-east.

A police spokesman said police were collecting evidence, reviewing video footage of the violence and had already detained more than 600 people.

“The detentions were important to bring the situation under control,” he told reporters, adding that there had been no new reports of violence.

Critics say the law is discriminatory and comes on top of other measures such as withdrawal of autonomy for India-occupied Kashmir that has deepened disquiet about the future of 200 million Muslims.

They blamed this week’s violence on members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was trounced in Delhi elections at the beginning of the month. The BJP has denied the allegations.

The violence morphed into street battles between Hindu and Muslim groups, with the police largely ineffective.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has condemned the violence against Muslims and vandalism of mosques and Muslim-owned properties.

US Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders accused President Donald Trump of failing on the issue of human rights after he refused to be drawn into criticising New Delhi for its handling of the bloodhsed.

Trump was on a state visit to India last week when the violence broke out.

Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2020