13 dead, over 250 injured in Delhi’s worst communal riot in three decades

Updated on Feb 26, 2020 07:11 AM IST

The 1.2 km stretch from Jafrabad to Maujpur remained tumultuous just as it was on Monday, but clashes were reported from areas such as Bhajanpura, Kardampuri, Shastri Park, Brahmpuri and Jyoti Nagar, which were largely unaffected a day ago.

A mob armed with sticks — some of them covering their faces — can be seen during a clash in North-east Delhi on Tuesday.(Photo: PTI)
A mob armed with sticks — some of them covering their faces — can be seen during a clash in North-east Delhi on Tuesday.(Photo: PTI)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Correspondents

A full-scale communal riot, Delhi’s worst in at least three decades, broke out on Tuesday, with clashes between Hindu and Muslim groups in several neighbourhoods in North-east Delhi leaving at least 13 dead (since Monday) and over 250 injured even as police and paramilitary forces struggled to restore peace.

What started off as clashes between pro- and anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act groups over the weekend further degenerated into communal violence on Tuesday — the signs were already there on Monday — with rioters from both communities, armed with guns, swords, sticks, and stones, running amok on the streets.

As concerns mounted over the clashes, the government repatriated 1985 batch Indian Police Service officer SN Shrivastava from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) to the Delhi Police, and posted him as the special commissioner of police – law and order. He is likely to succeed Delhi Police commissioner Amulya Patnaik.

Also read: In midnight intervention, NSA Ajit Doval reviews situation in north-east Delhi

Hours before, home minister Amit Shah — Delhi Police report to the Union home ministry — held a meeting early Tuesday afternoon, attended by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, home secretary Ajay Bhalla, Intelligence Bureau director Arvind Kumar, Delhi Police commissioner Patnaik, Congress leader Subhash Malhotra and Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Manoj Tiwari to assess the situation . The riots coincided with US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Capital, but they didn’t disrupt it.

After the meeting, Kejriwal said all political parties will ensure that normalcy returns to the city. “Everyone wants that the violence be stopped,” he said, striking an amicable tone in the wake of a political blame game over the clashes. It was also decided at the meeting that peace committees should be reactivated in all localities.

But things went downhill later in the afternoon.

The 1.2 km stretch from Jafrabad to Maujpur remained tumultuous just as it was on Monday, but clashes were reported from areas such as Bhajanpura, Kardampuri, Shastri Park, Brahmpuri and Jyoti Nagar, which were largely unaffected a day ago. Rioters damaged two fire tenders in Gokalpuri, and crowds shouting incendiary slogans set on fire a bike in Maujpur.

Also read: Began with roses, ended with bullets: How CAA protests in Delhi unfolded

The warring groups besieged the narrow lanes of Jafrabad and adjacent areas, and came to blows. The rioters also set some of the houses on fire.

Even journalists were not spared and asked to go back. A journalist with JK 24X7 News suffered a bullet wound and two reporters from NDTV were beaten and punched by rioters, according to news agency PTI. The car of two HT correspondents, who were at Bhajanpura, was surrounded by a mob and later chased by two bikers.

Delhi Police spokesperson Mandeep Randhawa said 11 first information reports have been registered and 20-25 persons have been detained in connection with the violence.

“The main reason behind violence escalating is that these areas have a mixed population and are too congested. Before police could respond, anti-social elements had incited violence, but we are responding to all incidents,” he said, adding that additional forces have been sanctioned by the home ministry.

The police also directed the imposition of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that prohibits the assembly of four or more people in violence-hit areas.

Of the 13 people who died in the clashes in the past 24 hours, 12 were civilians, according to doctors at the GTB hospital, where the victims were taken to. Rattan Lal, a 42-year-old police constable, died on Monday after suffering head injuries due to stone-pelting. On Tuesday, Shah wrote to the wife of slain Delhi Police head constable Ratan Lal, expressing his “grief” and “deep condolences”.

Five stations on the Delhi Metro’s Pink Line — Jafrabad, Maujpur-Babarpur, Gokalpuri, Johri Enclave and Shiv Vihar — remained closed for the second consecutive day on Tuesday. Schools were shut. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) postponed Class 10 and Class 12 board examinations on Wednesday in the riot-hit North-east Delhi. CBSE said it took the decision on the request of the Delhi government. The revised date is yet to be announced.

Some of those injured had to be brought to hospitals on bikes and vans after ambulances failed to make their way to the violence-hit areas, news agency PTI quoted the police as saying. Protesters also targeted e-rickshaws and other vehicles.

Separately, Kejriwal held a meeting of legislators and officials of the affected areas, and advocated sealing Delhi’s borders to stop the entry of outsiders. Parts of North-east Delhi share borders with Uttar Pradesh. Later in the day, the Ghaziabad district administration sealed three routes connecting it to North-east Delhi.

“MLAs of the border areas have said that people are coming from outside. There is a need to seal the borders and make preventive arrests,” Keriwal said, while also appealing for peace.

As tension gripped the city, the Supreme Court agreed to hear on Wednesday an application filed by former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and others seeking the lodging of first information reports (FIRs) over the violence.

Vikram Singh, former Uttar Pradesh director general of police, said the recent violence in Delhi was the worst since the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. “People are dying. I have never seen so much violence. As a police officer, one has to take hard decisions. You are not there for a popularity contest. There is no substitute to firmness,” he said.

North-east Delhi has been tense since Saturday night, when anti-CAA protesters blocked the Jafrabad Road, which runs underneath the Jafrabad Metro station. On Sunday, the police fired tear gas shells and baton-charged protesters who put up the blockade. The situation took a turn for the worse later that day after clashes broke out between pro- and anti-CAA protesters.

Tension spiralled after BJP leader Kapil Mishra visited the area on and also demanded that the police remove the protesters within three days. And on Monday, as the situation spiralled out of control, he appealed for peace. Habibullah, in his application in the top court, accused Mishra of orchestrating the riots.

“Whoever, no matter which party he belongs to, whether he is Kapil Mishra or anyone else, who gave speeches to provoke people, action should be taken against them,” Gautam Gambhir, East Delhi’s BJP parliamentarian, said on Tuesday.

Late at night, women protesters at Jafrabad announced “temporarily” shifting their anti-CAA stir to Seelampur to ensure their “safety and security” in the wake of the clashes. “We will restore the sit-in once the situation is under control,” said a protester, requesting anonymity.

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