Citizenship riots in Delhi turn deadly while Trump talks up religious unity in India

Hundreds of protesters clashed on the streets of Delhi for a third day running.

February 25, 2020, 7:46 AM

At least nine people have died and over 100 more have been injured in Delhi, including a police officer, during riots that saw protesters for and against a controversial new citizenship law clash for a third consecutive day, threatening to overshadow President Trump’s visit to India.

The violence began on Sunday when Kapil Mishra, a lawmaker for the governing Hindu nationalist BJP party, held a rally in favor of the citizenship law, which has sparked protests across the country for months on end.

On Monday, Delhi police responded to reports of rioting, arson and clashes between protest groups by firing tear gas in several districts in northeastern New Delhi, as hardline Hindu groups roamed through the streets. Protesters also set fire to shops and a Muslim shrine, witnesses told the Associated Press, with at least 100 people injured during the clashes.

PHOTO: Indian police detain members of Centre of Indian Trade Unions protesting against India visit of President Donald Trump, in Hyderabad, India, Feb. 24, 2020.
Indian police detain members of Centre of Indian Trade Unions protesting against India visit of President Donald Trump, in Hyderabad, India, Feb. 24, 2020.
Mahesh Kumar A/AP

Rival groups threw rocks at each other, and footage from the aftermath of the violence circulated on social media showed burned out buildings and cars.

And on Tuesday there were reports of fresh violence, with local media reporting that the death toll had risen to nine. Delhi police imposed public order Sec. 144 yesterday, a measure that prohibits unlawful assembly, and promised that “strict action will be taken against miscreants and anti social elements.”

Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi and member of the AAP, a rival party to the BJP, visited victims of the violence at two local hospitals and called for an immediate end to the violence Tuesday.

Despite the extra police presence, rioting continued in parts of New Delhi Tuesday, according to local media, with the #DelhiRiots trending on social media worldwide.

The rioting has cast a shadow over President Trump’s trip to India, where he has talked up the U.S.-India partnership and his admiration for Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist prime minister.

The deadly rioting on Monday in the capital came as Trump received a hero’s welcome at a cricket stadium full of tens of thousands of supporters in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Trump told the crowd that India “proudly embraces freedom, liberty, individual rights, the rule of law.”

"Your nation has always been admired around the Earth as the place where millions upon millions of Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs and Jains, Buddhists, Christians, and Jews worship side by side in harmony, where you speak more than 100 languages and come from more than two dozen states, yet you have always stood strong as one great Indian nation," Trump said. "Your unity is an inspiration to the world."

At a press conference Tuesday, Trump claimed that he had spoken with Modi about the issue of religious freedom, and the prime minister “was incredible in what he told me.”

"We talked about religious liberty for a long period of time in front of a lot of people. And I had a very, very powerful answer. And as far as Muslims are concerned, as he told me, I guess they have 200 million Muslims in India. And a fairly short while ago they had 14 million. And he said that they are very -- working very closely with the Muslim community.”

“They have worked very hard on religious freedom,” he said.

Yet nationwide protests have raged for months over a controversial new citizenship law, the Citizenship Amendment Act, which activists and opposition politicians say discriminates against India’s Muslim minority. Critics of the law say the government is seeking to enshrine religious discrimination into Indian citizenship.

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