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A man stands guard following clashes over a contentious amendment to India’s citizenship law in New Delhi, India, on February 26 2020. Picture: AFP/SAJJAD HUSSAIN
A man stands guard following clashes over a contentious amendment to India’s citizenship law in New Delhi, India, on February 26 2020. Picture: AFP/SAJJAD HUSSAIN

New Delhi — Escalating violence in India’s capital New Delhi has left at least 20 people dead after right-wing Hindu groups attacked mostly-Muslim protesters demonstrating against the country’s new religion-based citizenship law, the worst violence in the city in nearly three decades.

Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to send in the army to calm the “alarming” situation, the Press Trust of India reported on Wednesday. The city state’s police is not under the control of Kejriwal’s government and takes orders from the federal government.

The violence, which began over the weekend and intensified on Tuesday during US President Donald Trump’s visit to the capital, has highlighted rising religious tensions across India since Modi’s re-election last May. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the government to “rein in mobs and protect religious minorities”.

Footage of the violence shows burning shops and cars and damaged buildings as gangs of men armed with sticks and stones roam the streets. At least three reporters were injured as rioters attacked them for filming the clashes. Digital news portal The Wire showed visuals of a vandalised local mosque in the Ashok Nagar neighborhood of Delhi, where a flag featuring the Hindu god Hanuman was placed on the minaret.

Police were ordered to shoot rioters on sight in northeast Delhi late on Tuesday night after clashes escalated, while the government postponed school exams that were to be held on Wednesday, the Indian Express reported.

The prime minister’s office and the ministry of home affairs didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comments.

Midnight hearing

In an urgent midnight hearing held at the home of justice S Muralidhar, a two-judge bench of the Delhi high court directed Delhi police to ensure safe passage of ambulances to hospitals. It is due to hear the case again this afternoon.

The directions followed a petition by lawyer Suroor Mander, who told the judges that rioters were not allowing grievously injured victims to be transferred from an overcrowded small hospital to a larger and better-equipped one. During the hearing, the judge also heard from a doctor who said he had been calling the police for help for hours without success, according to his statement.

Separately, India’s supreme court is scheduled to hear another petition on Wednesday asking that police and state authorities be directed to take steps to stop the violence. While the Indian capital has its own local government, the security apparatus, including the police force, is under the control of the Modi’s confidant, the federal home minister Amit Shah. Neither Modi or Shah have so far commented on the violence.

The latest clashes come weeks after Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost local Delhi elections and marks a high point in tensions between Modi’s government and protesters, who have taken to the streets to push back against India’s new citizenship law, which they say violates the country’s secular constitution and discriminates against Muslims.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was passed by an overwhelming majority in the parliament in December, fast-tracks citizenship for religious minorities from three neighbouring countries, but excludes Muslims.

Delhi has already witnessed several shooting attacks near an area where thousands of people staged a months-long demonstration against the law. The pushback against the law has been Modi’s biggest challenge since he first came to power in 2014.



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