On the eve of February 23, riots broke out in Northeast Delhi between Anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and pro-CAA protestors. The violence took a communal turn and led to the death of over 53 people over the course of next 10 days. More than 200 were left injured. Shops and houses were burnt down and even places of worship were attacked.
What led to the Delhi riots?
Anti-CAA protests: Protests began in Delhi and other parts of the country in December 2019 in response to the passage of the Citizenship Bill, which paved the way for grant of citizenship to Hindu, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, Buddhists and Christians who took refuge in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan in or before December 2014. The Act was seen by protestors as discriminatory to Muslims and threatening to their existence in India when combined with the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Several demonstrations were held in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Aligarh, Bengaluru, Kolkata and other parts of the country. Most of the protests were peaceful, barring a few incidents of stone-pelting and burning of vehicles. Peaceful protests in Delhi's Shaheen Bagh, led mostly by women who endured the national capital's biting cold, drew a lot of attention, especially before the Delhi Assembly election of February 2020, and became a symbol of women-led anti-CAA protests across the country. However, their demonstration caused road blockage, much to the discomfort of commuters.
2019 Attack on Jamia Millia Islamia students: On December 15, several students of Jamia Millia Islamia University were injured during a confrontation with the Delhi police. Hundreds of police officers allegedly entered the campus forcefully and detained more than a hundred students. They were alleged to have used batons and tear gas to disperse anti-CAA protesters. Over 200 people were injured and admitted to Delhi’s All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Holy Family Hospital.
The attack on students triggered nationwide protests. The Human Rights Watch urged India to launch a probe into the attack.
Delhi Assembly election 2020: In the run-up to the Delhi elections, held on February 8, several political leaders, especially from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), were seen using incendiary slogans, equating protesters to anti-national elements. During an election rally of Union Minister Anurag Thakur, slogans like '...goli maaro... (shoot the traitors)' were raised. BJP MP Parvesh Verma said on video that protesters at Shaheen Bagh would “enter your homes and rape your daughters and sisters”. Another BJP leader Kapil Mishra posted a communal tweet. “Pakistan has entered Shaheen Bagh. Mini-Pakistans are being created in the city. The law of the land is not being followed in Shaheen Bagh, Chand Bagh and Indralok. Pakistani rioters are occupying Delhi roads,” Mishra wrote on Twitter.
The BJP, however, was defeated comprehensively by the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the elections.
A day before Delhi communal riots
On 22 February, about 1,000 people began a sit-in protest near the Jaffrabad metro station in Northeast Delhi, which blocked a stretch of Seelampur-Jaffrabad-Maujpur road, as well as the entry and exit to the metro station. The protest was reportedly in solidarity with the Bharat Bandh called by the Bhim Army, which was scheduled to begin on February 23.
Day of riots and arson
On February 23, hours before the communal riots broke out in Northeast Delhi, BJP leader Kapil Mishra gave "ultimatum" to the police to remove anti-CAA protests blocking roads in the area. He asked people to gather at Maujpur Chowk in support of the CAA in reply to the roadblock by those protesting against the new citizenship law. This was widely reported to be an inciting factor. Within hours of Mishra's speech, clashes broke out between anti- and pro-CAA demonstrators in Karawal Nagar, Maujpur Chowk, Babarpur and Chand Bagh. Police lathi-charged and used tear gas to disperse the crowd. The following afternoon, violent clashes broke out in several areas of Northeast Delhi, including in the Gokalpuri and Kardampuri areas. Clashes were marked by arson, vandalism of property, stone pelting and burning of places of worship. While trying to control the protestors, Delhi Police head constable Ratan Lal suffered a bullet injury and lost his life.
In areas like Bhajanpura, thousands of people attacked petrol pumps, carried petrol bombs, sticks and weapons. Violence was also reported from Seelampur, Jaffrabad, Maujpur, Kardampuri, Babarpur, Gokalpuri and Shiv Puri. Section 144, imposed the in riot-hit areas, had little effect. A man, identified as Shahrukh, opened fire at the police, before being arrested days later from UP's Shamli district.
In Shiv Vihar, several shops and houses owned by Hindus were torched by a Muslim mob. Later, mutilated bodies of workers were recovered from the site. Around 8:30 PM, a tyre market (predominantly owned by Muslims) was set on fire by crowd that screamed "Jai Shri Ram".
On February 25, a mosque was reported to have been vandalised in Ashok Nagar. Hindu-Muslim clash continued throughout the day. The dead body of Ankit Sharma of the Intelligence Bureau was found in a drain in Jaffrabad. Tahir Hussain, an AAP councillor whose house was alleged to have been used by rioters, was booked for the murder and arrested later. An investigation into the case is pending. Several incidents of mobs attacking journalists were reported during the riots. The Editors Guild of India issued a statement expressing concern about attacks on journalists as an assault on freedom of the press in India. They urged the home ministry and Delhi Police to investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Over 10,000 emergency calls were made to the police control room during the week.
The following day, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and AAP leaders visited violence-affected areas. Reports of arson and violence continued to emerge that day and two days after that.
By February 29, the riots ended in the national capital.
Who were the rioters?
According to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and local residents, the attackers did not belong to the area. According to conclusions in a preliminary report prepared by a delegation of the Delhi Minorities Commission, more than 2,000 outsiders or goons occupied two schools for 24 hours to execute the Delhi riots.
Delhi police's ability to maintain the law and order questioned
The Delhi Police's ability to bring peace back in riot-affected areas was questioned by multiple sources. There were reports of police taking no action despite being present when the violence resulted in murders. They were said to have remained lax in deploying personnel, even when intelligence reports called for more forces to prevent the tense situation from escalating further.
According to media reports, in one incident, a video shared on social media on February 26 showed a group of men being assaulted by the police as they lay on the ground. They were forced to sing the national anthem by the policemen.
A Delhi High Court Bench advised Delhi Police to take a conscientious call about filing FIRs against people whose speeches triggered the riots. But the police and the government maintained arresting them would not restore immediate peace. They further informed the court that they would need more time to investigate the matter.
Number of deaths in Delhi riots
As of March 6, as many as 53 people had been reported to have died in communal violence.
Donald Trump's India visit coincides with the violence
The clashes in the national capital coincided with President Donald Trump's first state visit to India. Trump told reporters that he had heard about the violence but had not discussed it with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “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.
Reactions to Delhi riots
On February 26, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed concern over the riots and requested India to give protection to people, no matter which faith they belonged to. Bernie Sanders, a 2020 US presidential candidate, and other US politicians expressed their concerns over the events. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stated: "Indians in huge numbers, and from all communities, have expressed — in a mostly peaceful manner — their opposition to the Act (CAA), and support for the country's long tradition of secularism,".
On February 27 2020, Turkey President Erdogan criticised the violence, saying: "India right now has become a country where massacres are widespread. What massacres? Massacres of Muslims. By who? Hindus".
On March 3, Delhi riots attracted heavy criticism from various members of Parliament from House of Commons of United Kingdom. They criticised the Modi government on the Delhi violence and CAA.
On March 5, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asked the Indian government to confront extremist Hindus and their parties and stop the massacre of Muslims of India in order to prevent India's isolation from the world of Islam.
Political reactions to the riots
CM Kejriwal said the Police, despite its efforts, was unable to control the violence and requested the Army's help.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi called for Home Minister Amit Shah's resignation for failing to stop the violence. She asked for the deployment of security forces.
Three days after the violence broke out, PM Modi tweeted and asked people to maintain peace and brotherhood. Home Minister Shah has not said anything on the riots yet.
On 2 March, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee alleged that Delhi riot was "planned genocide" by the ruling party at the Centre.
Relief provided to victims of Delhi riots
On February 27, Kejriwal announced free treatment for the injured in government as well as private hospitals. The government had made arrangements with the help of NGOs to supply food in areas where a curfew had been imposed and set up shelters. He also announced a compensation amount of Rs 10 lakh to affected people, Rs 1 lakh ex-gratia, and Rs 5 lakh in the case of death of a minor. For people whose houses were completely burnt, immediate assistance of Rs 25,000 was announced.
Investigation into Northeast Delhi violence
Two Special Investigation Teams (SIT) were formed to investigate Delhi violence. As of March 6, 2020, 654 cases had been lodged by the Delhi police and 1,820 detained.