Backlash against citizen law leaves 53 dead in riots

Riots in New Delhi, India have led to 53 people killed and more than 200 injured in response to the introduction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new citizenship law


India’s Citizenship Amendment Act, passed in December 2019, grants citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who came to India before December 2014 from Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan. The new law purposely excludes Muslims from neighboring countries, and has been criticized for undermining India’s traditions by imposing Hindu nationalism.


The violent unrest began Feb. 23 in New Dehli after weeks of peaceful sit-ins. The government responded to the peaceful protests by calling troops, shutting down the internet, and imposing curfews according to The New York Times.


Further violence erupted after an announcement by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party warned Muslims to stop the sit-ins, or they would face consequences by BJP supporters.


Protests escalated throughout parts of Delhi, including Karawal Nagar, Seelampur, Maujpur, Bhajanpura, Vijay Park, Jafrabad, Chandbagh, Mustafabad and Yamuna Vihar.


From the most recent reports, 53 people have been declared dead and 200 injured, with both Hindu and Muslim victims. Public and private properties have been destroyed, including homes, shops and mosques. 


Hindu mobs approached men in the streets and demanded they show their ID cards or forced their pants down to see if they were circumcised.


According to an interview from The Guardian, Musharraf, a 30-year-old Muslim man, was killed in his home with wife and children in northeast Delhi when a mob of around 30 men broke in armed with iron rods, knives and chains. 


“His wife was calling the police but they did not come,” Musharraf’s brother-in law Shakir said. “Everyone got into the beds to hide but the men covered everything with kerosene and shouted: ‘Will you come out or do you want us to burn you alive?’” Musharraf was dragged from his bed into the streets and was beaten to death.


Journalists in India were also impacted by the violence. One was shot and survived, and another had their teeth knocked out. According to Al Jazeera, these attacks on reporters are acts of censorship during a critical event and demonstrate growing intolerance for independent reporting under BJP Hindu nationalist-led government.


A photographer for the Times of India newspaper was approached by a group demanding to know whether they were Hindu or Muslim.


 “I folded my hands and pleaded with them to let me go, saying I was a lowly photographer,” the photographer said to Al Jazeera


What is being done?


According to Al Jazeera, police have been forced to look the other way as mobs destroyed property and attacked Muslims.The police and government have denied these allegations.


The interim president, Sonia Gandhi, has criticised the federal and local governments for being “mute spectators. Gandhi called Home Minister Amit Shah to demand immediate resignation, as Shah supported the citizenship law.


The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed “great concern” for the lack of action by the Indian government against the violence.


The US Commission on International Religious Freedom also condemned the incidents. USCIRF chair, Tony Perkins stated the United States should “urge the Indian government to take serious efforts to protect Muslims and others targeted by mob violence.”


What’s next?


The violence has since subsided, but hundreds of wounded are still filing into hospitals, which have reported a lack of support from the government. 


Hospitals are overwhelmed by the lack of staff and available supplies to assist the wounded. NPR visited a dentist, and the only medical professional of a small hospital after the riots erupted.


“We had 60 to 70 healthy families take refuge here last week, fleeing violence outside, Ikram, a dentist at the hospital, said to NPR. “We didn’t have enough beds. The dead bodies, we had to lay them out on the floor. For the first 24 hours, we got no help from the government.”


Segregation between groups is predicted to continue after the riots, according to human rights expert Miloon Kothari. Thousands of Indians are taking arms against their neighbors as authorities have reported more than 600 complaints and detained nearly 2,000 suspects.


14% of India’s population are Muslim, while 80% are Hindu. Divisions widened when Narendra Modi was elected prime minister in 2014. The BJP believes India should be a Hindu country which has been accused of fostering hate against Muslims and other minorities.


BJP has denied any allegations of bias against India’s 180 million Muslim population. Modi called for calm on Twitter that the law “does not affect any citizen of India of any religion” and “the need of the hour is for all of us to work together.’’


Critics and Indian citizens are worried for the future of India, but understand that it was a time coming. 


“We’re chasing a failed dream,’’ Political CommentatorYogendra Yadav said to The New York Times


University student Waqar Azam said to The New York Times, “What is happening to Indian Muslims today did not happen overnight, if we don’t protest against it now, we will end up living like slaves.”