The death toll in Delhi’s worst religious violence in decades has risen to 24 as Indian police have been accused of looking the other way while Muslims and their properties were targeted.
A mosque was set on fire in the Indian capital on Tuesday by Hindu mobs, as several Muslim-populated areas in the city were attacked during three days of violence, which were triggered after attacks on sit-ins against a new citizenship law.
Muslims say the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu supremacist agenda and is against the country’s secular ethos.
Indian website The Wire reported that a mob shouting “Jai Shri Ram”, translated to “hail Lord Ram”, paraded around the burning mosque in the Ashok Nagar area of the capital.
Video footage shared on social media showed a mob climbing to the top of the mosque’s minaret where they attempted to plant a saffron flag, a banner associated with Hindu far-right groups.
Today police authorities in India have announced the arrest of hundreds following the worst anti-Muslim violence by Hindu nationalists that began on the eve of a state visit by US President Donald Trump, infamous for his anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies.
A police statement, however, came without elaborating on whether the detainees were perpetrators of deadly violence on mosques and ordinary Muslim residence or Muslims defending their homes against indiscriminate attacks by Hindu nationalists with little intervention by police officers and other government security forces.
Over 40 people were declared killed by Hindu mobs this week, with hundreds more reported injured amid news accounts of largely useless police intervention to end the violence and meager international criticism of New Delhi’s failure to protect its minority Muslim population.
The violence began amid widespread protests across India over a citizenship law that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government introduced in December offering a path to Indian citizenship for six religious groups from neighboring countries, specifically excluding Muslims.
Critics insist the law is discriminatory, coming in the wake of other severe government measures against the country’s Muslim population such as withdrawal of autonomy for Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir province that has intensified discord across India about the future of its 200 million Muslims.
According to the UK-based Independent newspaper, Hindu nationalist mobs roamed the streets of New Delhi on February 23, “burning and looting mosques together with Muslim homes, shops and businesses.”
“They killed or burned alive Muslims who could not escape and the victims were largely unprotected by the police,” the daily added in a Friday article, underlining that dozens of Muslims “were killed and many others beaten half to death” – including a two-year-old baby that was “stripped by a gang to see if he was circumcised, as Muslims usually are but Hindus are not.”
“Some Muslim women pretended to be Hindus in order to escape,” it further noted, emphasizing that “the rest of the world has been slow to grasp the gravity of what is happening in India” as Modi’s government plays down its plans to shift the nation away from its previous status as a pluralistic state.
Critics of Modi’s government have blamed the anti-Muslim violence on members of the prime minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was crushed in local Delhi elections early this month.
Although the bloody anti-Muslim violence in New Delhi began during Trump’s two-day visit to the country, the US president said he was satisfied that India’s Modi was working “really hard” to establish religious freedom.
However, US Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders blasted Trump for failing to criticize New Delhi for its handling of the sectarian violence.
Only the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) has so far censured the violence against Muslims and vandalism of mosques and Muslim-owned properties in India, according to press reports.
Delhi police spokesman M.S. Randhawa asserted Friday that police were collecting evidence and reviewing video footage of the violence and had already arrested more than 600 people.
“The detentions were important to bring the situation under control,” he further told reporters, noting that there had been no new reports of violence without pointing to the anti-Muslim nature of the bloody unrest.
The development came as Muslims in Delhi attended Friday prayers amid heavy presence of riot police as scores of mosques in India’s capital held their first sermons since Hindu mobs armed with swords, guns and acid razed parts of the city’s northeast district on Monday.
“If they burn our mosques, we will rebuild them again and pray,” said one of the Muslim worshipers praying on the rooftop of a mosque that was set on fire in the unrest, identified in a report by Guardian news website as Mohammad Sulaiman. “It’s our religious right and nobody can stop us from practicing our religion.”
According to the report, five days after the riots started hospitals were still trying to identify the dead as the casualties kept increasing and residents of the targeted areas continued to look for missing relatives.