At least 20 people were killed and 189 injured in three days of clashes in New Delhi that coincided with President Donald Trump’s first state visit to India, with the death toll expected to rise as hospitals continue to take in the wounded, authorities said Wednesday.
Violence between Hindu mobs and Muslims protesting a new citizenship law that fast-tracks naturalization for foreign-born religious minorities of all major faiths in South Asia except Islam left shops, Muslim shrines and public vehicles smoldering.
The dead included a policeman and an intelligence bureau officer and the government has banned public assembly in the affected areas.
While riots wracked northeastern New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted a lavish reception for Trump, including a rally in his home state of Gujarat attended by more than 100,000 people and the signing of an agreement to purchase more than $3 billion of American helicopters and other military hardware.
On Wednesday, Modi broke his silence on the clashes, tweeting that “peace and harmony are central to (India’s) ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times.”
New Delhi’s top elected official, Chief Minister Arvind Kerjiwal, called for Modi’s home minister, Amit Shah, to send the army to areas in a northeastern corner of the sprawling capital affected by the riots.
Police characterized the situation as tense but under control. Schools remained closed.
Sonia Gandhi, a leader of the Congress party, India’s main opposition group, called for Shah to resign. She accused Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of creating an environment of hatred and its leaders of inciting violence with provocative speeches that sought to paint protesters against the citizenship law as anti-nationalist, Pakistan-funded Muslims.
The clashes escalated Tuesday, according to Rouf Khan, a resident of Mustafabad, an area in the capital’s northeast.
Khan said mobs with iron rods, bricks and bamboo sticks attacked the homes of Muslims.
As Air Force One flew Trump and his delegation out of New Delhi late Tuesday, Muslim families huddled in a mosque in the city’s northeast, hoping that Hindu mobs wouldn’t burn it down.
“After forcing their way inside the homes, they went on a rampage and started beating people and breaking household items,” Khan said of the mobs, adding that he and his family had to run and take shelter inside a mosque that he said was guarded by thousands of Muslim men.
“I don’t know if our house was burned or not, but when we were running away we heard them asking people to pour kerosene and burn everything down,” Khan said.
Some of the dead had bullet wounds, according to Dr. Sunil Kumar, medical director of the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital.
Others came to the hospital with gunshot and stab wounds and head injuries.
Among them was Mohammad Sameer, 17, who was being treated for a gunshot wound to his chest Wednesday at Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital.
Speaking to The Associated Press after having an operation, Sameer said he was standing on his family’s apartment terrace watching Hindu mobs enter Mustafabad when he was shot in the chest.
“When Sameer was shot, I took him on my shoulders and ran downstairs,” said the boy’s father, Mohammad Akram. “But when the mob saw us, they beat me and my injured son. He was bleeding very badly. While they were beating with sticks, they kept on chanting slogans and threatened to barge inside our homes.”
Akram said he managed to get his son into a vehicle, but they were stopped several times by Hindus before they managed to escape from the area and reach the emergency room.
In Kardampura, a Muslim-majority area where a youth was shot and killed on Monday, hundreds of police personnel in riot gear patrolled the area and asked people to stay indoors, while residents said they were living in fear.
“We are scared and don’t know where to go,” said one resident, Dr. Jeevan Ali Khan. “If the government wanted, they could have stopped these riots.”
Close by, black smoke still rose on Wednesday afternoon from a market that sold tires and second-hand car parts in Gokalpuri as firemen tried to douse the smoldering fire.
The violence drew sharp reactions from U.S. lawmakers, with Rep. Rashida Talib, a Democrat from Michigan, tweeting, “This week, Trump visited India but the real story should be the communal violence targeting Muslims in Delhi right now.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the killing of Muslims, saying: “Now 200 million Muslims in India are being targeted. The world community must act now.”
Trump told reporters Tuesday that he had heard about the violence but had not discussed it with Modi. Instead, Trump gloated about his reception in India.
India has been rocked by violence since Parliament approved the citizenship law in December. Opponents have said the country is moving toward a religious citizenship test, but Trump declined to comment on it.
“I don’t want to discuss that. I want to leave that to India and hopefully they’re going to make the right decision for the people,” he said.