Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm on Wednesday after days of clashes between Hindus and minority Muslims over a controversial citizenship law in some of the worst sectarian violence in the capital in decades.
Twenty people were killed and nearly 200 wounded in the violence, a doctor said, with many suffering gunshot wounds amid looting and arson attacks that coincided with a visit to India by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Police and paramilitary forces patrolled the streets in far greater numbers on Wednesday. Parts of the riot-hit areas were deserted.
“Peace and harmony are central to our ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times,” Modi said in a tweet.
Modi’s appeal came after a storm of criticism from opposition parties of the government’s failure to control the violence, despite the use of tear gas, pellets and smoke grenades.
Opposition calls for minister’s resignation
Sonia Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party, called for the resignation of Home Minister Amit Shah, who is directly responsible for law and order in the capital.
The violence erupted between thousands demonstrating for and against the new citizenship law introduced by Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
The Citizenship Amendment Act makes it easier for non-Muslims from some neighbouring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.
Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has denied it has any bias against India’s more than 180 million Muslims.
Reuters witnesses saw mobs wielding sticks and pipes walking down streets in parts of northeast Delhi on Tuesday, amid arson attacks and looting. Thick clouds of black smoke billowed from a tire market that was set ablaze.
At least two mosques in northeast Delhi were set on fire.
Many of the wounded had suffered gunshot injuries, hospital officials said.
The corridors of the Guru Teg Bahadur hospital at New Delhi’s eastern border are often crowded, but on Wednesday hundreds thronged its wards as doctors worked through the night to treat injuries.
Mohammad Akram watched as his 17-year-old son was wheeled out of an operating theater after surgery for a bullet wound in his chest. The teenager said he was shot on his family’s apartment terrace as he watched Hindu mobs enter his neighborhood.
New patients continued to pour into the hospital on stretchers. Those with head injuries were wheeled to the overcrowded emergency room.
Mohammad Akbar made it to the hospital with his head bleeding profusely after he was attacked early Wednesday.
Akbar, who is Muslim, said a Hindu mob forced him to chant the Hanuman chalisa, a Hindu devotional hymn dedicated to Lord Hanuman, a popular Hindu god.
“They pounced on me after and started beating me. One person hit me on the head with an axe,” Akbar said.
Shaleen Mitra, an adviser to Delhi’s health minister, Satyender Jain, said police also blocked ambulances from evacuating the injured from a small, overcrowded private hospital in Mustafabad, a Muslim-majority area, to the larger public Guru Teg Bahadur hospital.
“The police told the healthcare workers that they wouldn’t be able to provide them with protection from the rioters,” he said.
Relatives of Muslim victims accused police of standing by as the Hindu mobs torched buildings and beat people. How the violence began, and who was to blame, remained unclear.
On Wednesday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in a tweet that it was alarmed by the violence and it urged the Indian government “to rein in mobs and protect religious minorities and others who have been targeted.”