Delhi sees third day of deadly religious riots

Kusum Tewari

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Media captionInside Delhi’s night of horror

Delhi remains on edge after the third consecutive night of rioting, with reports of Muslim homes and shops being targeted by violent mobs.

Twenty people have been killed so far in the deadliest violence the Indian capital has seen in decades.

The clashes first broke out on Sunday between protesters for and against a controversial citizenship law.

But they have since taken on communal overtones, with reports of people being attacked based on their religion.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has described the situation as “alarming” and demanded that “the army should be called in”.

Photographs, videos and accounts on social media paint a chilling image of a city on the edge. There are reports of arson, of groups of men with sticks, iron rods and stones wandering the streets and of Hindus and Muslims facing off.

What is happening now?

While fresh clashes have not been reported on Wednesday, the city continues to simmer. The unrest is centred around Muslim-majority neighbourhoods – such as Maujpur, Mustafabad, Jaffrabad and Shiv Vihar – in north-east Delhi.

Main roads in these neighbourhoods are in a shambles, say BBC reporters who are at the scene. The streets are littered with stones and shattered glass, broken and burnt vehicles are strewn about, and the stench of smoke from smouldering buildings fills the air, says BBC Hindi’s Faisal Mohammed.

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At least two mosques have been vandalised in the clashes

Judging by the names of the victims released so far, they include both Hindus and Muslims. Some 189 are injured, according to officials at the Guru Teg Bahadur hospital, where many of them have been admitted.

BBC reporters at the hospital say they saw people with all sorts of injuries, including bullet wounds, scrambling for treatment. They say the hospital seemed “overwhelmed”, and many of the injured were “too scared to go back home”.

‘Burned prayer mats and a torn Koran’

Faisal Mohammed, BBC News Delhi

A small crowd of around a dozen people is standing outside a vandalised mosque in Ashok Nagar, one of the areas worst affected by the violence.

The front of the green and white building is scorched. An Indian flag and a saffron flag, commonly associated with right-wing Hindu groups, are flying from one of the minarets.

Torn pages from the Koran are strewn outside the building. Two young men are picking up the pages and putting them in a plastic bag.

One man says he will take the pages and bury them in a graveyard.

As I enter the building, I see skull caps and partially burned prayer mats.

The area where the mosque stands is a Hindu neighbourhood, but residents say that they had nothing to do with its desecration.

They blame “outsiders”, saying that they did not intervene as they were afraid of being targeted.

These areas are close to the Loni border – that Delhi shares with Uttar Pradesh state – which has now been sealed. Schools in the area have been closed, and year-end exams postponed.

Many, including journalists, have tweeted and spoken of mobs demanding to know their religion. At least one photojournalist said he was asked to remove his pants to prove his identity. This has also happened during religious riots in the past to identify Muslims as they are usually circumcised.

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There have been reports of some residents leaving their homes

What are authorities doing?

“There are enough forces on the ground and no one needs to fear,” National Security Advisor Ajit Doval told NDTV news channel, and asked the people of Delhi to trust “the man in uniform”.

Mr Doval was responding to reports that police were allegedly not doing enough to help those under attack.

The Delhi police have also been accused of being under-prepared and outnumbered. More than 50 policemen have also been injured and at least one – a constable named Ratan Lal – was killed.

Police spokesman MS Randhawa told reporters on Tuesday that the situation was under control and a “sufficient number of policemen” had been deployed. Paramilitary forces have been deployed as well.

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Vehicles were set alight during clashes in the capital

The central cabinet is expected to meet later on Wednesday to review the situation. Home Minister Amit Shah, who is in-charge of the city’s police force, led a meeting with officials and policemen on Tuesday night.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not commented on the violence yet.

The timing of the unrest is being seen as an embarrassment for him as he was hosting US President Donald Trump over the last two days on his first official visit to India.

As the violence escalated, it overshadowed Mr Trump’s visit, making it to national and global headlines.

What is the citizenship law about?

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) grants amnesty to illegal non-Muslim immigrants from three nearby Muslim-majority countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The law has raised fears that India’s secular status is at risk and, critics say, it discriminates against Muslims.

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The police and protesters fought pitched battles on the streets of Delhi

Mr Modi’s government denies this, and has said it only offers citizenship to persecuted minorities.

But hundreds of thousands of people across India, both Muslims and Hindus, have taken part in protests against the law. Some of the most high-profile protests, such as a continuing sit-in in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area, have been led by Muslim women.

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