Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for calm yesterday after Delhi’s worst sectarian violence in decades left at least 24 people dead and calls for a military curfew.
This week’s battles between Hindus and Muslims have seen mobs armed with swords, guns and acid raze parts of a northeastern district of the capital.
The clashes, which also left almost 200 injured, were triggered by protests against a citizenship law seen by many critics as anti-Muslim and part of Modi’s nationalist agenda.
They exploded into brutal violence on Monday and Tuesday, with residents forced to flee their homes after seeing dwellings destroyed, a mosque attacked and a tyre market and two schools set ablaze.
“I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times. It is important calm and normalcy is restored at the earliest,” Modi tweeted yesterday.
Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called for the army to be deployed and for a curfew to be imposed.
“Police, despite all its efforts, (are) unable to control situation and instil confidence,” Kejriwal tweeted. Around 200 wounded people were brought to the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, the main hospital in the region, doctors said yesterday.
Hospital superintendent Sunil Kumar Gautam confirmed the deaths of 23 people from injuries including “gunshots, stabbings, (and) jumping from heights to escape rioters.” Separately, another person injured in riots had died at another hospital.
Most of the injured were discharged, but 35 patients were still admitted, Gautam told reporters. On Tuesday night,
the death toll stood at 13.
A policeman was among the victims and 40 more were among those injured, police said.
Yesterday morning residents cleaned out the blackened interior of a trashed mosque, burned out during the violence in the Ashok Nagar area.
Locals accused the police of doing nothing to help - or worse.
“We tried to make many calls to the police that people are entering our neighbourhoods,” said Naeem Malik.
“But police did not help us at all. We tried to save the women at the protest site but instead policemen started beating us up,” he said, showing wounds on his leg and hands.
Elsewhere a firetruck tried to put out blazes from the previous night, the air thick with smoke from still-smouldering cars, motorbikes, shops and homes.
“They say we are not Indians, but we are Indians by blood,” Farhat, 22, a student in Islamic studies, said in her father’s shop as police looked on.
“There is no police in the streets at night, just during the day.”
The area is home to mostly poorer economic migrants from elsewhere in India living in shanty neighbourhoods, and some fled yesterday ahead of more expected clashes.
“It is better to leave than to stick around here. Why would we want to die here?,” a tailor said as he prepared to return home to his village in northern India.
The unrest comes amid growing concerns at home and abroad about India’s direction and the future of its 200mn Muslims since Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party swept to a second term last year.
Top police and security officials said the law-and-order situation was returning to normal yesterday as additional police forces were on the ground and “peace meetings” were being organised between community representatives and religious leaders.
“The situation is totally under control. People are satisfied. I have confidence in law enforcement agencies. Police is doing its work,”
said National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who undertook a tour to the affected-areas, met locals and gave them assurances of peace.
But troubled parts of north-east Delhi continued to simmer.
Armed police were carrying out patrols in violence-hit areas that have been placed under curfew.
While fresh clashes were not reported yesterday, there were stray incidents of arson and stone-throwing.
Police have been criticised for their alleged inaction when the violence unfolded and for deploying inadequate forces on the ground, a charge officials denied.
Police spokesman M S Randhawa said 106 locals had been arrested for rioting and their role in clashes.
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