Communal Violence in India’s Capital Leaves At Least 22 Dead
(Bloomberg) -- Violence in India’s capital New Delhi has left at least 22 people dead after right-wing Hindu groups attacked mostly-Muslim protesters demonstrating against the country’s new religion-based citizenship law, the worst violence in the city in nearly three decades.
Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to send in the army to calm the “alarming” situation, the Press Trust of India reported Wednesday. The city state’s police is not under the control of Kejriwal’s government and takes orders from the federal government.
The violence, which began over the weekend and intensified on Tuesday during U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to the capital, has highlighted rising religious tensions across India since Modi’s re-election last May. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the government to “rein in mobs and protect religious minorities.”
Footage of the violence showed burning shops and cars and damaged buildings as gangs of men armed with sticks and stones roamed the streets. At least three reporters were injured as rioters attacked them for filming the clashes. Digital news portal The Wire showed visuals of a vandalized local mosque in the Ashok Nagar neighborhood of Delhi, where a flag featuring the Hindu god Hanuman was placed on the minaret.
Police were ordered to shoot rioters at sight in northeast Delhi late Tuesday night after clashes escalated, while the government postponed school exams that were to be held on Wednesday, the Indian Express reported.
In his first reaction since the riots first broke out on the weekend, Modi tweeted an appeal for peace and harmony on Wednesday.
The Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Home Affairs didn’t respond to emails seeking comments.
In an urgent midnight hearing held at the home of Justice S. Muralidhar, a two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court directed Delhi Police to ensure safe passage of ambulances to hospitals.
Continuing with the proceedings on Wednesday, the bench asked the police to consider the consequences of each day’s delay in acknowledging crimes and inflammatory speeches.
When the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the government, said the police will take steps on inflammatory speeches made before the riots by three leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at an appropriate time, Justice Muralidhar asked “What will be the appropriate stage? When the city has burnt down? How many more lives need to be lost?”
The court will continue hearing the case on Thursday.
Separately, India’s Supreme Court refused to entertain a petition for directing police to take steps to control violencem letting a lower court hear the issue. While the Indian capital has its own local government, the security apparatus, including the police force, is under the control of the Modi’s confidant, the federal Home Minister Amit Shah.
India’s main opposition Congress Party’s chief Sonia Gandhi called for Shah to resign for failing to quell the clashes. “What has happened in Delhi is a colossal failure of duty,” Gandhi said Wednesday at a media conference. “The tragic events since last Sunday have a history, design and pattern,” she said, accusing ruling party leaders of creating “an atmosphere of fear and hate.”
The latest clashes mark a high point in tensions between Modi’s government and protesters, who have taken to the streets to push back against India’s new citizenship law, which they say, violates the country’s secular constitution and discriminates against Muslims.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, which was passed by an overwhelming majority in the Parliament in December, fast-tracks citizenship for religious minorities from three neighboring countries, but excludes Muslims.
Delhi has already witnessed several shooting attacks near an area where thousands of people staged a months-long demonstration against the law. The pushback against the law has been Modi’s biggest challenge since he first came to power in 2014.
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