New Delhi streets turn into battleground for Hindus and Muslims

  • >> Jeffrey Gettleman, Suhasini Raj and Sameer Yasir, The New York Times
    Published: 2020-02-25 23:00:30 BdST

In one part of New Delhi, President Donald Trump was sightseeing and talking about his warming relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In another, a neighbourhood was ripping apart in flames, along religious lines.

A mob of Hindu men, their foreheads marked by a saffron stripe, angrily patrolled the streets carrying iron bars, clubs and baseball bats.

The streets were littered with scraps of brick. All shops were closed and almost no women or children were out — except for two Hindu women brandishing sticks and threatening journalists.

Gangs of Hindus and Muslims have been clashing in the neighbourhood, Maujpur, and surrounding areas since Sunday, killing at least 11 people, including a police officer bashed in the head with a rock.

US President Donald Trump and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi embrace during a joint news conference after bilateral talks at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, February 25, 2020. Reuters

US President Donald Trump and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi embrace during a joint news conference after bilateral talks at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, February 25, 2020. Reuters

As Trump and Modi continued with their program Tuesday, discussing geopolitics, thousands of furious residents faced off again, hurling gasoline bombs, attacking vehicles, hospitalising several journalists and drawing more and more police officers and paramilitary troops.

The violence is connected to the ongoing protests against India’s divisive citizenship law, but this was the first time that the protests have set off major bloodshed between Hindus and Muslims.

“The situation is volatile and tense,” said Alok Kumar, a senior police officer. “It’s a mixed neighbourhood and in seconds you can have crowds of tens of thousands. Even a small thing can lead to violence.”

A man reacts as he falls during a clash between people supporting a new citizenship law and those opposing the law in New Delhi, India, February 24, 2020. Reuters

A man reacts as he falls during a clash between people supporting a new citizenship law and those opposing the law in New Delhi, India, February 24, 2020. Reuters

In the Muslim quarters, many people felt victimised and accused Modi’s government of abandoning them. This is a long-standing grievance: that Modi’s ruling political party, which is rooted in a Hindu-nationalist worldview, has taken sides and abetted violent religious extremists.

Modi had choreographed Trump’s visit as a demonstration of India’s rising stature on the world stage, seeking to turn the page on months of street protests.

Demonstrations keep breaking out against the citizenship law, which makes it easier for migrants of every significant South Asian religion except Islam to become Indian citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Indian Muslims have protested, joined by students, academics, human rights activists and those worried about the country’s direction. Many of them say the new law is a grave threat to India’s traditions of being a secular and inclusive nation.

Until now, however, most of the demonstrations remained peaceful.

©2020 The New York Times Company