Violent riots in northeast Delhi erupted on Sunday, resulting in at least 38 dead and over 200 injured, with little sign of easing up. A controversial citizenship law that has further divided Muslims and Hindus is being identified as the cause, with some labeling India’s new ruling as “anti-Muslim.”
Hindu Mobs Violently Attack India’s Muslim Community
A flood of images and videos surfaced across social media depicting raging fires and numerous acts of vandalism, specifically targeting the Muslim community. The mostly Hindu mobs – armed with guns, batons, sticks, and stones – are seen beating unarmed men, including journalists who have since spoken out on social media about the attacks. Some of the braying crowds were also seen demanding proof of religion by forcing men to show their genitalia to verify if they were circumcised or not, since circumcision is required as per Muslim custom.
BBC reporters said that they saw people at the hospital with various injuries, including bullet wounds, scrambling for treatment. They described the hospital as being “overwhelmed,” and many of the injured as being “too scared to go back home”.
Mohammed Zubair, who was on his way home from a mosque, was ambushed and beaten during the riots.
“They saw I was alone, they saw my cap, beard, shalwar kameez (Muslim clothing) and saw me as a Muslim,” he told Reuters with his head wrapped in bandages and body dotted in bruises. “They just started attacking, shouting slogans. What kind of humanity is this?”
India’s Anti-Muslim Citizenship Law
The conflict in India started last year in December after a law which provided a fast-track system to citizenship for non-Muslims migrants from neighboring countries was introduced. It was a move that riled the Muslim population, with many labeling the new legislation as discriminatory and fascist.
Furthermore, the law heralds another regulation that calls for all Indians to authenticate their “Indian-ness” with the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Non-Muslims who do not fit the criteria could be ineligible for citizenship due to the passing of the new law, whilst Muslims who fail the test could face potential imprisonment or deportation. Many have raised concerns that it could create a situation similar to the plight of the Rohingya – a Muslim minority ethnic group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar who were expelled after their homes were destroyed, causing more than 100,000 of them to flee to Malaysia.
India’s Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come under heavy criticism, with accusations that this new citizenship law is “anti-Muslim” and goes against India’s secular constitution. Modi has, however, refuted claims of bias and said that the new amendment was needed to protect persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.
Loss of Faith in the Police
Thousands of Indian paramilitary police have been deployed since rioting broke out, but faith in the police has rapidly diminished as a result of their inability to subdue the violent upheaval. Scenes of protestors wielding weapons in front of the authorities have been commonplace and reflect the growing public disregard for the police presence.
Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal met with victims who were being treated at GTB Hospital and Max Hospital and said that Hindus, Muslims, and policemen have all been injured. He tweeted that the police have been unable to control the situation and urged that the army should be summoned and curfews imposed to restore order to the troubled capital.
On Thursday, at the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet commented on the situation in India with significant concern.
“Indians in huge numbers, and from all communities, have expressed – in a mostly peaceful manner – their opposition to the Act, and support for the country’s long tradition of secularism. I am concerned by reports of police inaction in the face of attacks against Muslims by other groups, as well as previous reports of excessive use of force by police against peaceful protestors.”
As of this writing, Delhi Police have detained more than 400 people and arrested more than 130. Curfews are being implemented in some of the worst-affected areas, while social media continues to be rife with images of ransacked roads strewn with rubble, burnt buildings, and smouldering vehicles.