New Delhi: Families grieve after more people killed in escalating violence

The past week has witnessed some of the worst sectarian clashes between Hindus and Muslims in New Delhi for 40 years

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At the government hospital's morgue in New Delhi, Farheen sits in utter shock after losing her brother in an attack by rioters on their home.

Her family live in an impoverished part of the Indian capital, where 38 people have died in days of violence between Hindus and Muslims.

Farheen, 25, says a Hindu mob broke into her home on Monday evening, after clashes broke out in Delhi’s north-east district over the country’s contentious new citizenship law.

Muslims fear that the ruling, which was passed in December last year, will be used to undermine their rights under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.

As fears of an attack grew stronger, Farheen locked her home from the inside and clasped her three-month-old daughter, hiding her son, 4, in a trunk with her three nieces and nephews.

Her mother, 60, two sisters and a sister-in-law were with her while her brother Musharaf and husband Qasim hid in another room.

About 7.30pm, Farheen heard commotion and thuds outside their home as an armed mob of at least 40 men broke into their building, which has a small factory on the ground floor.

For the next two hours the mob chanted slogans and stormed through the four-storey building.

“They barged into the house after breaking the main door and rampaged through every room destroying everything," Farheen said.

"They broke the door of the room where my brother and husband were hiding. They beat them with sticks and rods.

"My husband had collapsed and my brother was pleading and crying but they were hitting them hard.

"We couldn’t do anything as we were hiding in another room. We were pleading for their lives from inside."

The family’s Hindu neighbours came to their aid and later told them that the attackers dumped her brother's body near an open sewer.

“Our Hindu neighbours evacuated us after the attackers left,” Farheen said. "They escorted us out of the area and hid my unconscious husband in their home for the night.”

The latest violence began on Sunday night after hundreds of Muslim women staged a sit-in near the main motorway to protest against the new law.

The law expedites the naturalisation of residents from other South Asian countries, except for Muslims, and has triggered months of mostly peaceful street protests.

But some have turned violent and at least 30 people have been killed since December.

Relatives show pictures of family members who became victims of the deadly violence in Delhi. Taniya Dutta for The National
Relatives show pictures of family members who became victims of the deadly violence in Delhi. Taniya Dutta for The National

Mr Modi’s government has defended the law, saying that it provided citizenship to “persecuted” non-Muslims from the neighbouring Islamic countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

He has accused his political rivals of fomenting the street violence and his party colleagues have called protesters “anti-nationals”, and in some cases asked for violence to be used against them by right-wing Hindu supporters.

The violence this week, which has seen the worst sectarian clashes in almost four decades, came after a threat by Mr Modi's party member Kapil Mishra, who called on "Hindu brothers" to evict the women protesters from the road.

Mobs armed with rods, sticks and guns set fire to thousands of vehicles and homes, vandalising mosques in neighbourhoods where Muslims and Hindus lived together in harmony for decades.

Veer Bhan, 53, was riding home on his motorcycle on Monday afternoon when a mob opened fire. He was shot in the head and died.

His son, Rohit Kumar, who was riding with him, waited outside the hospital for his father’s body to be released.

"I managed to run while the mob tried to come closer," Mr Kumar told The National.

His father was taken to hospital but declared dead on arrival.

“I don’t understand why he was killed," Mr Kumar said. "What did he do?”

The sprawling neighbourhoods in the city's north-east look like a war-zone, with mangled vehicles, bricks scattered across the roads and buildings blackened by fire.

Shops and factories have been looted and goods are strewn on the street.

Thousands of residents have left the area after losing their homes or fled fearing further violence.

Police are yet to assess the damage to life or properties, but Delhi’s fire department said it received more than 200 calls for large-scale arson since Monday.

Outside the morgue, grieving Hindu and Muslim families are huddled in groups, discussing the violence.

There is tension in the air but grief has united everyone, despite the clear religious and political divide.

Mohammad Quresha wailed as she saw the body of her son Mohammad Irfan, 32, brought to the mortuary for a post-mortem examination.

Mr Irfan had been attacked by a mob metres from his home on Wednesday evening when he went out to buy milk for his two young children.

His family found him collapsed in the street and took him to the hospital late in the evening, but he died of cardiac arrest and internal injuries on Thursday.

“If his killers feel at peace after murdering him, let it be,” his grieving mother cried as Hindus and Muslims consoled her.

"Just give me his body. I want to bury him."