Delhi riots: Dust settles after worst religious violence in decades as locals demand accountability

Adam Withnall
Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol streets vandalised in the religious violence on Thursday in Delhi: AP

At least 35 people are now believed to have died in the worst religious riots to hit Delhi in decades, as a critical judge was transferred away from the capital amid mounting questions over the authorities’ response to the violence.

Both the central administration of prime minister Narendra Modi and the city’s devolved government were being criticised on Thursday over how hundreds of hooligans chanting Hindu nationalist slogans were able to attack Muslim properties and religious sites for three days before the situation was brought under control.

The death toll could yet rise, with 30 of those confirmed killed reported by a single facility, the Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) Hospital. Its director told AFP that those who died had suffered their wounds on Monday and Tuesday, and “all of them had gunshot injuries”.

Delhi police said there were “no major incidents of violence” overnight on Wednesday and into Thursday in riot-affected areas of the city’s north-east, and The Independent saw heavy deployments of police in riot gear on the streets in the evening.

And with more than 100 arrests made over the violence, attention was turning towards the matter of who was responsible, and whether the deaths could have been prevented.

Delhi’s High Court gave Mr Modi’s ruling BJP four weeks to act on a plea for legal action to be taken against party leaders accused of inciting Hindu nationalists to take to the streets.

The accused include Kapil Mishra, an unelected but prominent party figure, who told his followers to “give an answer” to the peaceful, mostly Muslim protesters whose have been conducting sit-in rallies against the government’s new citizenship laws since mid-December.

But one High Court judge who has been particularly critical of the official response to the riots, Justice S Muralidhar, received orders late on Wednesday night that he was to be transferred out of the capital to the state of Punjab.

Justice Muralidhar had, while hearing a petition regarding the violence that same day, spoken out against the government and the police saying the court could not sit silently by and “let another 1984 happen on its watch” - a reference to massive anti-Sikh riots that killed some 3,000 people.

The government insisted the judge’s transfer was decided some weeks ago, and the law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad dismissed concerns about the timing of the move on Twitter, calling it a “routine” step.

Although the central government is responsible for policing in the capital, the newly elected Delhi government has also come in for criticism. Its chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, held meetings with the Modi administration during the riots but is accused of doing little else to prevent the spread of violence.

The main opposition party has submitted a petition to the president of India, Ram Nath Kovind, to sack home minister Amit Shah for “abdication of duty”. Their appeal said that: “Instead of taking active steps to remedy or diffuse the situation, the central government and also the newly elected Delhi government, have remained mute spectators as completely mindless rage, designed violence and organised looting of property has continued unabated.”

An activist who joined a rally outside the office of the chief minister, said that dozens of protesters were fired upon with water canon, detained and beaten by police.

Suyash Tripathi, 22, who went to demand action Mr Kejriwal having previously spoken to The Independent about getting injured in the clashes, said he and 40 others were arrested in the small hours of Wednesday morning and held for eight hours.

He said officers beat the protesters both in the street and in lockup, accusing police of “slapping us, kicking us, hitting us with their shoes, using their elbows, knees in the back”. Mr Tripathi, a Hindu, said police insulted his bearded Muslim friend “using racial, religious comments - calling him a terrorist”. He said he was beaten until he was “bleeding all over”.

Mr Tripathi said he believed the police had absorbed the biases of what he called “a systematic approach that says anyone who protests is a Muslim, and they should be kicked out”.

“They (the police) beat us because they are biased [against Muslims]. I am a Hindu, but they didn't know that when they beat us up [at first]. When it came to registering our names, they saw mine and the Station House Officer said: 'What are you doing here? Why are you protesting with the Muslims?'

“I told him I am protesting because this is not about Muslims, it is about us, it is about all Indians, and we will keep protesting.”

Late on Wednesday, a US government commission on religious freedoms around the world accused of the Indian government of “failing in its duty to protect its citizens”, saying it was deeply troubled by the violence in Delhi and accounts that police failed to stop attacks on Muslims.

The same panel, the USCIRF, made headlines for criticising Mr Modi’s new citizenship laws as discriminatory to Muslims on the eve of Donald Trump’s state visit to the country. The USCIRF is independent of the Trump administration, though it advises the White House and Congress on foreign affairs.

In a statement, the Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar accused the commission, as well as “sections of the media and a few individuals”, of making “factually inaccurate and misleading [comments]” and “politicising” the violence.

“Our law enforcement agencies are working on the ground to prevent violence and ensure restoration of confidence and normalcy,” he said.

“Senior representatives of the government have been involved in that process. Prime minister [Modi] has publicly appealed for peace and brotherhood. We would urge that irresponsible comments are not made at this sensitive time.”

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