During the past several days, more than thirty people have been killed in mob violence primarily targeting Muslims in the Indian capital of New Delhi. At the center of the conflict is the Citizenship Amendment Act (C.A.A.), a law passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu majoritarian government that creates a path to citizenship for immigrants of different faiths—unless they happen to be Muslim. Its passage sparked demonstrations across the country, many of which have been met by force from police and right-wing groups. Indian journalists have chronicled police inaction as Muslims’ property has been destroyed and Muslim residents have been beaten. There have also been reports of police officers beating Muslims, including the imam of a local mosque. Many of the Hindu mobs have chanted “Jai Shri Ram,” or “Victory to Lord Ram,” a favored slogan of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.).
Modi, who took office in 2014, has in recent months moved aggressively to restrict the rights of Muslim residents. Before the passage of the C.A.A., in December, 2019, Modi’s government revoked the autonomy of India’s only Muslim-majority state, Kashmir, and implemented the National Register of Citizens (N.R.C.) in the state of Assam, which forced people to verify or forfeit their citizenship. And in Delhi on Sunday, a member of Modi’s party called on the police to get tough with protesters, or watch his followers do so. Several days later, Modi, who was hosting President Donald Trump when the violence broke out, belatedly called for the restoration of “peace and normalcy.”
To discuss the volatile situation in Delhi, I spoke by phone with Raghu Karnad, a journalist and the author of the book “Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War.” He was in northeastern Delhi this week, where he and several other journalists barely managed to escape a mob. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed his experiences reporting on the violence, how the Modi government capitalizes on the conflict between Hindus and Muslims, and the difficulty of finding accurate reporting in India.
What have your experiences been like the past several days?
Wherever you go in the country, something seems to crop up with this protest movement. I went to the northeastern part of the city on Tuesday, to try and assess for myself what was happening there. What was evident through the afternoon was that gangs of young, angry men had been let loose on very marginal, vulnerable neighborhoods, and that police were either doing a very poor job or refraining from controlling them. The word that was used most was “clash”—that young Hindu and Muslim men were “clashing,” and committing violence and vandalism on each other’s property. What happens increasingly with events like this in India is that an intensely polarized and rapid-acting media machine makes it impossible to discern what is really happening, or what the facts on the ground are. Even if you work in the press, it is getting harder and harder to distinguish what an image is actually showing you. Was the video that has been sent to you that is supposed to show one community attacking another what it claims to be? Or is it something completely different? It became necessary for me to go down there and take the temperature of the place myself.