[Marxism] New Delhi Streets Turn Into Battleground, Hindus vs. Muslims

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Feb 26 07:52:04 MST 2020


NY Times, Feb. 25, 2020
New Delhi Streets Turn Into Battleground, Hindus vs. Muslims
By Jeffrey Gettleman, Suhasini Raj and Sameer Yasir

NEW DELHI — A mob of Hindu men, their foreheads marked by a saffron 
stripe, angrily patrolled the streets carrying iron bars, clubs and a 
bright blue aluminum baseball bat. They were itching for a fight.

The streets in the New Delhi neighborhood were littered with scraps of 
bricks. All shops were closed and almost no women or children were out — 
except for two Hindu women brandishing sticks and threatening journalists.

Gangs of Hindus and Muslims have been clashing in the neighborhood, 
Maujpur, and surrounding areas since Sunday, killing at least 11 people, 
including a police officer bashed in the head with a rock.

While President Trump and his host, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of 
India, discussed geopolitics and lunched together in another part of the 
capital, thousands of furious residents faced off again, hurling petrol 
bombs, attacking vehicles, hospitalizing several journalists and drawing 
more and more police officers and paramilitary troops.

The violence is connected to the continuing protests against India’s 
divisive citizenship law, but this was the first time that the protests 
have set off major bloodshed between Hindus and Muslims. It is an old 
and dangerous fault line, and any sign of communal violence raises alarm 
instantly.

“The situation is volatile and tense,” said Alok Kumar, a senior police 
officer. “It’s a mixed neighborhood, and in seconds you can have crowds 
of tens of thousands. Even a small thing can lead to violence.”

In the Muslim quarters, many people felt victimized and accused Mr. 
Modi’s government of abandoning them. This is a longstanding grievance: 
that Mr. Modi’s governing political party, which is rooted in a 
Hindu-nationalist worldview, has taken sides and abetted violent 
religious extremists.

Mr. Modi had choreographed Mr. Trump’s visit as a demonstration of 
India’s rising stature on the world stage, seeking to turn the page on 
months of street protests.

But demonstrations keep breaking out against the citizenship law, which 
makes it easier for migrants of every significant South Asian religion 
except Islam to become Indian citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Indian 
Muslims have protested, joined by students, academics, human rights 
activists and those worried about the country’s direction. Many of them 
say the new law is a grave threat to India’s traditions as a secular and 
inclusive nation.

Since last year’s election handed Mr. Modi and his Bharatiya Janata 
Party another term in power, many Indians feared a resurgence of 
communal violence, sparked by Hindu triumphalism and Muslim desperation. 
Until now, however, most of the demonstrations remained peaceful.

Maujpur is a working-class neighborhood about a half-hour’s drive from 
the center of Delhi. Gray two- and three-story buildings stand along its 
roads, housing small factories and many migrant workers.

For the past several weeks, Muslim residents, many of them women, have 
been protesting the citizenship law. On Saturday night, they began to 
block a major road.

The next day, Kapil Mishra, a local leader from Mr. Modi’s political 
party, showed up. He threatened to mobilize a mob to clear out the 
protesters. He said he did not want to create trouble while Mr. Trump 
was visiting, but he warned the police that as soon as Mr. Trump left 
India on Tuesday night, his followers would clear the streets if the 
police did not.

Tensions shot up. As Sunday evening approached, gangs of Hindu men and 
Muslim men began throwing rocks at each other. This quickly degenerated 
into wider violence, with Hindu residents accusing Muslims of attacking 
Hindu statues and Muslim residents expressing fear that a Hindu mob was 
forming to get them.

Shoaib Ahmad, a Muslim businessman who makes a living repairing tires, 
said his shop was burned down Monday night by a Hindu mob as he stood on 
the roof of his house.

“All my dreams were destroyed in those flames,” Mr. Ahmad said.

What made it even worse, he said, was that police officers encouraged 
the mobs to burn down Muslims’ property.

Images circulating on social media showed a group of Hindu men beating a 
Muslim man with sticks, leaving him on the ground, curled up in a ball 
and covered in blood.Several Muslim residents in Maujpur and adjacent 
neighborhoods said that police officers had stood by while they were 
attacked. In mob lynchings of Muslims in the recent past in other parts 
of India, many people have made similar accusations against officials in 
Mr. Modi’s party, saying that the police officers under their command 
did not intervene.

India is about 80 percent Hindu and 14 percent Muslim.

A stretch of highway between Maujpur’s Hindu neighborhood and a nearby 
Muslim-dominated area called Jaffrabad now serves as a no-man’s land. It 
is lined by deserted shops, the asphalt marred by burn marks. Few people 
dare to walk through here.

Several police officers conceded that they felt more comfortable 
deployed in the Hindu crowd that had gathered at one end of the buffer 
zone than with the Muslims massed at the other. While the Muslim crowd 
hoisted a big Indian flag, the Hindu crowd chanted religious slogans.

Members of a Hindu mob, armed with crude weapons, begged the police to 
let them attack Muslims.

“Give us permission, that’s all you need to do,’’ one mob leader said. 
“You just stand by and watch. We will make sure you don’t get hurt. 
We’ll settle the score.’’ Then he used a slur to refer to Muslims.

This kind of communal violence has left a lasting mark on Mr. Modi’s 
legacy. In 2002, when he was the chief minister of Gujarat State, 
sectarian riots left more than 1,000 people dead — almost 800 of them 
Muslims killed by Hindu mobs.

He and his state government were accused of quietly ordering the police 
to stand by as the violence raged. He has denied those accusations, and 
in 2012, an investigative panel for the Supreme Court found no evidence 
to charge him. But until he won the post of prime minister in 2014, he 
was banned from entering the United States because of the suspicion 
hanging over him.

This week, Delhi police officials, who ultimately report to Mr. Modi’s 
home minister, Amit Shah, said they were determined to keep the Hindu 
and Muslim mobs apart. Mr. Kumar, the police official, said he was 
trying to organize a peace march between the two sides, but by nightfall 
that was nowhere close to happening. Mr. Shah said in a statement that 
the violence had been spontaneous, and he appealed for calm.

But the hatred on the streets was heavy. Several Hindu men said they 
felt Muslims did not belong in India.

“Why should they?’’ asked Rakesh Sharma, one of the Hindu men who had 
taken it upon themselves to chase outsiders from their neighborhood. 
“The Muslims have other countries they can go to, like Syria or Nigeria. 
They need to get out of India.’’

Many Muslims feared that once Mr. Trump left India, the violence would 
get even worse.

“It’s a little quiet because Trump is here,’’ said Mohammed Tahir, a 
rickshaw driver. “Their side is scared to give the prime minister a bad 
name.’’

“But as soon as Trump leaves,’’ he said, “they will attack. They want to 
uproot us. But we won’t let that happen. We were born here, we live 
here, this country is as much ours as theirs — and if we need to, we 
will all die here, together.’



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