Three weeks have passed since violent rioting in Delhi claimed the lives of 53 people. In the meantime, how has Prime Minister Narenda Modi reacted? The leader of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has remained largely silent since the events, beyond two brief tweets appealing for calmness. The police response to the unrest was heavily criticised, with reports and video evidence painting law enforcement as complicit to brutality against the primarily Muslim victims. The police are accused of failing to adequately suppress the fighting and, in some instances, cooperating with attacks against Muslims.
The Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah, responsible for India’s internal security including the Delhi police force, defended the response. In a parliamentary debate last Thursday, Shah spoke of ongoing efforts to identify violent perpetrators, insisting that those responsible would be brought to justice “irrespective of their caste, religion and political affiliations.” He has also suggested that the Islamic State was culpable for the rioting, calling the violence a “conspiracy.” Few observers corroborate this claim. In another case, BPL spokesperson Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga told Reuters that he believed the riots were pre-planned by the opposition to coincide with President Trump’s visit to the capital.
Amidst the BJP’s relative silence, opposition parties and international spectators have condemned the violence and the government’s handling of it. MPs brawled in the first parliamentary session following the riots and stalled proceedings the day after, demanding action against Shah and a debate that would come ten days later. Sonia Ghandi, President of the Indian National Congress (INC) and Sanjay Singh of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) both called for Shah’s resignation, citing his alleged role in fueling the violence and failing to quell the unrest. The leaders of Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and Indonesia have also expressed concerns on the attacks against Muslims.
Rioting broke out on the 23rd of February as Hindus and Muslims clashed, spurred on by local BJP leader, Kapil Mishra, who threatened to mobilize a mob to forcefully remove peaceful protesters who had been occupying a stretch of road since January. The protesters had been rallying against the BJP’s Citizenship Amendment Bill that would offer immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan of faiths other than Islam the opportunity to gain Indian citizenship at a reduced six years of residency. The Bill is the latest move by the purportedly Hindu-Nationalist BJP that discriminates against Muslims in India. Hostilities were reportedly two sided at first, with both Hindu and Muslim casualties. Days later, large Hindu mobs beat Muslims, setting fire to their homes, businesses and mosques as police watched on. A majority of the 53 dead are Muslims, a senior Delhi government health department official told The Guardian. The New York Times reports that most were killed by gunfire.
This is not the first deadly riot to take place under Modi’s watchful eye. In 2002, more than 2,000 people were killed in months of bloody clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat. Most of those killed were Muslims. Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time. He would later face accusations that he sanctioned the violence and was barred from entering the U.K. and U.S. for 10 years, though he was cleared by the Indian Supreme Court in 2010. Just as in the recent Delhi riots, Modi offered little to condemn the brutal persecution of Muslims, who make up some 200 million of the nation he leads. Modi and his BJP bear an intent to crack down on any murmur of dissent by Muslims, while tolerating zealous attacks targeting the same community. Implicitly, Modi condones and incites aggression, creating a system that holds little accountability to the perpetrators of religious violence and leaves the door open to future bloodshed.
As the government distances itself from India’s secular constitution, thousands of internally displaced Muslims and millions more around the country endure apprehensively. Survivors of the Delhi riots talk of grief, fear and doubt. The future for this minority is a precarious one, and one that necessitates a decisive denunciation of hatred and intolerance in India by its stewards.
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