As India counts the dead, questions swirl about police response

click to enlarge Police officers patrol the streets of Jaffrabad in eastern New Delhi, on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, following protests. Protests erupted in December across the country after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which has roots in a Hindu-nationalist worldview, passed a new citizenship law that makes it easier for most migrants to become full-fledged Indian citizens unless they are Muslim. - ATUL LOKE FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
Atul Loke for The New York Times
Police officers patrol the streets of Jaffrabad in eastern New Delhi, on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, following protests. Protests erupted in December across the country after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which has roots in a Hindu-nationalist worldview, passed a new citizenship law that makes it easier for most migrants to become full-fledged Indian citizens unless they are Muslim.
By Jeffrey Gettleman and Suhasini Raj
The New York Times Company

NEW DELHI — The mob smashed through the gate and cut the electricity. The men stormed up the steps brandishing knives, chains, iron bars and pieces of pipe.

The Musharraf family, who are Muslim, locked themselves in a dark room. The breadwinner, a 30-something rickshaw driver, threw himself under the bed and curled up in a wooden box. But the mob of more than 25 men found him. “Please, I’m also your brother,” he pleaded and folded his hands in front of his chest, a gesture for mercy, according to several survivors. “I also have young kids, like you.”

They clubbed him in the face and dragged him out. Family members, in hiding around the neighborhood, called the police. No one came. A neighbor later saw his corpse being lifted out of a ditch, along with six others, said his wife, Mallika.


As India’s worst spasm of religious violence in years entered its sixth day, with the death toll climbing to at least 38, questions are intensifying about why New Delhi police failed to quell the bloodletting.

Since Sunday, gangs of Hindus and Muslims have clashed. Scores of homes, shops and cars have been set aflame.

Witnesses have said that police officers, under the command of a Hindu nationalist governing party, intentionally stood back and let Hindu mobs slaughter Muslim civilians.

There are also growing concerns that President Donald Trump’s visit this week drew away high-level attention and personnel.


Intelligence agents within the police services sent several alerts Sunday asking for more forces to be deployed, according to Indian media. Thousands of police officers were deployed to line the roads Monday as Trump’s motorcade cruised into town.

At a court hearing Thursday, the government asked for more time to investigate. Critics saw this as a stall tactic by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to protect its own. The court gave the government four more weeks.

The violence was triggered by dueling protests for and against India’s new citizenship law, which is widely seen as anti-Muslim.

Though both Hindus and Muslims have died, the killings and property destruction have been lopsidedly against Muslims. Many people believe this is because the state security services are controlled by Hindu nationalists and that police officers abetted the Hindu mobs.

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