Delhi rocked by deadly protests during Donald Trump's India visit
Donald Trump’s visit to Delhi has been overshadowed by deadly protests that have continued to engulf India’s capital, as Muslim and Hindu groups clashed violently and the death toll rose to 13.
The bloody violence, which has left the streets of north-east Delhi in flames and continued to escalate on Tuesday, has so far left one policeman and 12 civilians dead, and over 150 injured.
Speaking at a press conference in Delhi on Tuesday evening before he left India, Trump said he had not brought up the violence with prime minister Narendra Modi, saying he would not comment on “individual cases”. However, the president said the pair had discussed the rising attacks on the Muslim community and he was satisfied that Modi worked “really hard” on religious freedom.
“I had very powerful answer from PM Modi,” said Trump. “He told me that they are working very closely with minorities in India … PM Modi said that there are 200 million Muslims in India, and that his government is working closely with the minorities.”
At his speech at a rally on Monday in Ahmedabad, a city in the Indian state of Gujarat, Trump had already lavished praise on Modi for his “democratic” and “tolerant” leadership of India.
The unrest in the capital began on Sunday in north-east Delhi, when a Kapil Mishra, a local leader from Modi’s BJP party, threatened to violently remove a group of Muslim protesters who had been peacefully blocking a local road in protest against a controversial new citizenship amendment act (CAA), which many believe discriminates against Muslims.
Mishra’s incendiary rhetoric against the Muslims riled up a Hindu mob, and Hindus and Muslims began clashing in the streets, throwing stones and setting alight to local businesses. The communal violence further escalated as rumours that Hindu icons had been demolished by local Muslims and a mob of Hindu rioters were pictured violently beating a Muslim man with sticks and baseball bats as he lay bloodied in the street, crying for help. A policeman was killed when he was hit in the head by a flying rock, and multiple journalists were hospitalised as they were attacked by mobs.
As shops, cars and homes were set alight and rubble and smoke filled the neighbourhood, the streets of the Khajuri Khaas and surrounding areas of north-east Delhi resembled a war zone. The police responded with teargas and grenades and were reportedly firing molotov cocktails at the clashing groups. However, the unrest continued to spread across the capital. On Tuesday evening, a mosque in Ashok Nagar, north-west Delhi, was set alight, with Hindu rioters seen climbing the minaret and attaching a flag of the Hindu god Hanuman.
Sachin Kumar, 35, an autorickshaw driver, had witnessed the riots on the streets of Khajuri over the past two days and said it was the first time he had seen Muslim and Hindus in such violent conflict.
“It is a religious riot that began when the Hindus tried to move Muslim protesters using violence,” said Kumar. “It has got completely out of hand. I saw shrines and mosques burning, Muslims’ shops were attacked and both sides were throwing stones. Cars were on fire and even the schools have been burned.”
He added: “Police were using teargas and lathi sticks [a martial arts weapon] to try and stop the mobs and people were so scared, everyone was hiding inside their houses. This is the first time in my life I have ever seen anything like this.”
Kumar said the mobs – made up of thousands of people – had been armed with “revolvers, stones, sticks, even swords” and on the Hindu side he had heard the mobs shouting “Jai Sri Ram”, a well known Hindu-nationalist slogan.
As the violence continued on Tuesday, Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal urged people to keep the peace as he held a meeting with the home minister, Amit Shah, local politicians and officials from the violence-hit areas.
“I am very worried about the prevailing situation in certain parts of Delhi,” Kejriwal tweeted. “All of us together should make all efforts to restore peace in our city. I again urge everyone to shun violence.”
A section 144 order, which prevents gatherings of more than four people, was imposed on various areas in the north-east of Delhi where the violence was concentrated and schools in the area have been closed. However, on Tuesday, the clashing religious mobs were once again out on the streets in north-east Delhi. Many in the Muslim community of Delhi said they feared to leave their houses following reports Hindu mobs were stopping people in the streets and asking to see identification, and not allowing any Muslims to pass.
Modi has been grappling with continuing domestic unrest since his Hindu nationalist BJP government passed the CAA in December, which grants citizenship for refugees of every major South Asian religion except Muslims. In conjunction with a planned national register of citizens (NRC) it is feared the law will make India’s Muslim community aliens in their own country and undermine the secular foundations of India by making religion the basis of citizenship.
The anti-CAA demonstrations, which have taken place in almost every major Indian city over the past three months and show no sign of abating, have been met with increasingly authoritarian measures, including incidents of mass arrests and harassment of the Muslim community and reports of torture of activists, protesters and innocent Muslim bystanders.