A burnt-out vehicle in New Delhi following clashes between people supporting and opposing a contentious amendment to India's citizenship law. Riot police patrolled the streets of India's capital on Feb. 26 following battles between Hindus and Muslims that claimed at least 20 lives, with fears of more violent clashes. (Photo: Prakash Singh/AFP)
In continuing violence that threatens to become a Hindu-Muslim riot, at least 20 people have been killed as supporters of a controversial citizenship law clashed with mostly Muslim protesters on the streets of Indian capital New Delhi.
The violence began on Feb. 24 morning when groups clashed in a Muslim-dominated locality. They threw stones, attacked each other with wooden sticks and set parked on vehicles on fire.
Police told media on Feb. 26 that at least 20 people have been killed in the continuing violence and arson attacks, with many fearing the police inability to curb the clashes could lead to sectarian violence.
“The police were standing and witnessing people clashing and shooting with guns. It is for sure that the police and these people were hand in glove as they could bring in pistols and swords without any difficulty to the protest venue,” said A.C. Michael, a Christian leader who lives in the city.
He said police deliberately allowed supporters of the law controversial law to organize a rally close to where opponents of the law were protesting.
If not contained, this could flare up and result in a riot, warned Michael, a former member of Delhi Minorities Commission.
The genesis of the trouble was a sit-in-demonstration that Muslim women began on a street after the federal government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on Dec. 11.
The day-and-night protest blocked the road for more than 60 days. However, a group of mostly Hindus who support the law tried to clear the road, leading to violence.
The CAA grants Indian citizenship to migrant religious minorities from neighboring Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan provided they are not Muslims.
Secularists and Christian leaders have been protesting against the law, saying it not only discriminates against Muslims but also violates the secular principles of the Indian constitution.
Critics of the law also say it was another move to push the country toward a Hindu-only nation in line with the ideology of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Modi has repeatedly expressed his determination to implement that law. He and supporters maintain that the law is meant to help people escaping persecution from neighboring nations. Muslims are excluded because they do not face religious persecution in these Muslim-dominated nations, they say.
Michael said what was “happening in India these days can also be classified as state terrorism.”
“The state machinery may not be seen to be directly involved in these violent incidents, but there is strong and visible evidence to prove that they have the tacit approval of the government. The federal government is directly responsible for law and order in Delhi as the Delhi police report to the federal home ministry,” he said.
G. Kishan Reddy, a junior minister in the federal Home Ministry, told media that there was a “conspiracy” behind fueling the protest and violence to present India in a poor light during the two-day visit of US President Donald Trump.President Trump concluded his visit on Feb. 25 by giving a clean chit to Modi's government, saying the PM “wants people to have religious freedom very strongly."