Mosques, targeted by far-right Hindu mobs in riot-hit neighbourhoods of capital New Delhi, opened for weekly Friday prayers, as police arrested over 500 in connection with religious violence.

Muslims offer Friday prayers in a riot-affected area following clashes between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India, February 28, 2020.
Muslims offer Friday prayers in a riot-affected area following clashes between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India, February 28, 2020. (Reuters)

Indian police arrested 514 people for deadly religious violence that broke out in the capital, the government said on Friday, as it faced mounting international criticism for failing to protect minority Muslims.

Local media reported 42 deaths. The full extent of the violence that began on Sunday in a densely-packed locality in northeastern Delhi remains unclear.

Police are still searching drains and homes that were burnt down for bodies, officers said.

Police prepared a list of about 250 victims –– dead and wounded –– and one in every three victims have apparently suffered bullet injuries, The Indian Express reported, adding police are investigating how so many rioters got access to weapons. 

The government said more forces had been deployed at mosques in the area for the weekly Friday prayers. There had been no new violence since Wednesday morning, it said in a statement.

'Anti-Muslim' law

The violence began over a citizenship law called Citizenship Amendment Act or CAA that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government introduced in December providing a path to Indian citizenship for six religious groups from neighbouring countries, but not Muslims. 

Critics say the law is discriminatory and undermined India's secular constitution.  It comes on top of other measures such as withdrawal of semi-autonomy for Muslim-majority India-administered Kashmir that has deepened disquiet about the future of 200 million Muslims in India.

Critics of the government, however, blamed this week's violence on members of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was trounced in local Delhi elections at the beginning of the month. The BJP has denied the allegations.

It began with anti-CAA gangs targeting pro-CAA protesters. 

Ultimately, the violence transformed into street battles between Hindu and Muslim groups with the police accused of being complicit or largely ineffective in controlling the situation.

The Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) has condemned the violence against Muslims in India and vandalism of mosques and Muslim-owned properties.

The OIC said authorities need to bring the instigators and perpetrators of anti-Muslim violence to justice and ensure the safety and security of all its Muslim citizens and the Islamic holy places across the country. 

Turkish President Erdogan too hit out at "massacres" of Muslims in India. 

US Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders accused President Donald Trump of failing on the issue of human rights after he refused to be drawn into criticising New Delhi for its handling of riots in the capital. Trump was on a state visit to India when the violence broke out.

Prayers at mosques 

On Friday, Muslims in a northeastern neighbourhood of India's capital returned for weekly prayers at fire-bombed mosques.

"If they burn our mosques, we will rebuild them again and pray. It’s our religious right and nobody can stop us from practising our religion," said Mohammad Sulaiman, who was among about 180 men who prayed on the rooftop of a mosque that was set on fire in the unrest.

Kapil Mishra, a local leader of BJP who lost his Delhi state assembly seat in recent elections, demanded at a rally on Sunday that police shut down a Muslim-led protest in the city or else he and his followers would do it themselves.

And it appears they did. 

This week's death toll marked the worst religiously motivated violence in New Delhi since 1984, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards, triggering a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 Sikhs in the capital and more than 8,000 nationwide.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies