Delhi is burning. And the impact on this millennia-old city of the shocking brutality it has seen over the past few days will remain long after the last fires have been doused. The rioting that began on the day the president of the United States was in town has already claimed 35 lives; the toll has been climbing steadily daily, with many people still reported missing.
Relatives are thronging mortuaries to see if the bodies of their loved ones have arrived. Tales from relatives standing outside hospitals are sorrowful and shocking. Both Muslims and Hindus have been impacted.
The world knows India as a land of diversity with hundreds of sects and religions, languages and innumerable cultures. India is a multicultural land in the most basic sense of the word. But the images of the past week have grotesquely disfigured that narrative
That the situation in a city as important, and as tightly policed as Delhi should come to this makes for very sorry commentary on the political and security apparatus in India. Many Indians feel the government could have easily stopped the violence hours after it broke out if it wanted.
The violence has, of course, not happened in a vacuum. For more than two months, there have been relentless protests against the divisive new citizenship law that the government instituted.
There are serious fears among India’s 200 million Muslims that the citizenship law, combined with a ‘national register of citizens’, will leave them stateless or even send them to detention camps. The government has done little to allay these fears, whether they are real or imagined.
In the days leading up to the polls, the political conversation plumbed new depths of ugliness with politicians uttering unthinkable words against peaceful protesters, calling them “anti-nationals” and even “jihadists”.
No action was taken against these politicians, whose dog-whistles and open threats were taken to heart by hordes of rioters roaming Delhi’s streets with homemade hand guns, spears and machetes, indulging in killings and arson. Many parts of Delhi have come to resemble scenes from full-blown war zones.
The world knows India as a land of diversity with hundreds of sects and religions, languages and innumerable cultures. India is a multicultural land in the most basic sense of the word. But the images of the past week have grotesquely disfigured that narrative.
Such is the lack of trust in the Delhi Police, and so serious the situation of the ground, that India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had to tour impacted areas on foot to reassure shell-shocked citizens. Immediate action needs to be taken to stop the madness. A continuation on this path will spell disaster for India.