As many as 13 people have died in India’s capital, New Delhi, after right-wing mobs went on a rampage, especially targeting sites where people have been protesting the discriminatory and divisive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In many areas, mobs burnt vehicles, beat up people and shouted offensive slogans against Muslims. Over 150 people have been injured. After inaction and even instances of collusion with the rioters for two days, the police issued shoot-at-sight orders in the northeast part of the city on the evening of Tuesday, February 25.
Peaceful protests have been going on at many sites in New Delhi since December against the CAA, the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register, which many fear will reduce Muslims to second-class citizens. The law will also affect the poor and working classes of all religions. Throughout this period, there has been a sustained campaign by Hindu right-wing forces, including those associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, to polarize the people.
Over the weekend, many of the anti-CAA protests continued even as people gathered at a few new protest sites as well. The gatherings were also in response to a call by an organization called the Bhim Army for a countrywide shutdown. The Bhim Army, which has a strong support base among the Dalits (the formerly untouchable castes), called for the shutdown in response to attacks on reservation (affirmative action) across the country.
The right-wing forces, led by the local leaders of the BJP, issued calls for people to mobilize against the peaceful protests. Kapil Mishra, a BJP leader, publicly threatened that they would clear the streets soon. Beginning with Maujpur in northeast Delhi, right-wing mobs began attacking multiple protest sites on Sunday evening.
As clashes erupted, stone pelting was reported. The police, meanwhile, did not take any steps to calm the situation. Instead, the police also targeted the peaceful protestors. Tear gas shells were fired against the protestors and they also made the use of baton charge. In Hauz Rani area, many women and children were injured due to the baton charge which was carried out by police during their peaceful march.
The tense situation continued the next day with the condition worsening in many areas. In many instances, Muslims were singled out as targets. In Maujpur, Jaffrabad, and Chand Bagh areas, many shops and vehicles were burnt.
In the evening, section 144 was imposed in the affected areas which prohibits the assembly of four or more people.
There following is a video report of the violence that took place on Sunday and Monday. (The death toll has since risen)
Through Monday night and Tuesday, the violence by right-wing rioters continued. The epicenter of the violence and the rioting continues to be the northeastern part of Delhi. In many areas, people gathered, bearing sticks, rods and batons and smashed and burnt vehicles and shops. There have been reports of rioters trying to barge into houses and attack residents, and wandering around, shouting inflammatory and provocative slogans against Muslims. There have been many reports of police inaction and even of collusion with the right-wing mobs. Journalists too were attacked by some of these mobs.
All this is happening as US president Donald Trump is on a visit to India. The Indian government has gone all out to welcome him. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has been continuously tweeting about his meetings with Trump but has not referred to the rioting so far. It was only on Tuesday that home minister Amit Shah held a meeting with the chief minister of Delhi State and senior police officers. The State chief minister, Arvind Kerjiwal, has said that there is not adequate police presence on the ground. There has been strong criticism of especially the Central government for failing to stop the targeting of Muslims as the police of the city are under the Central home ministry.
Leftist parties strongly condemned the government’s inaction. Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted that the “hate speeches by union ministers, members of parliament and top ruling party leaders in Delhi inciting hate and violence in a call to arms .. are responsible for the collapse in law and order that we see today.” He questioned the silence of the prime minister and home minister, asking if it was incompetence or complicity. The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation condemned “the ongoing campaign of violence in Delhi being spearheaded by BJP-RSS [Rashtriya Swayamwevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the BJP] thugs and openly facilitated by the Delhi Police and sought the arrest of those who instigated and orchestrated the pogrom, including BJP leaders.” On February 26, a host or organizations and activists are holding a sit-in for peace at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.