A year later, victims of anti-Muslim riots in India are waiting for justice

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The shooter shouted “Victory to Lord Ram”, the Hindu deity, before pressing the trigger that sent a bullet into Muhammad Nasir Khan’s left eye. Khan placed his trembling hand on his bloodstained eye socket and his fingers slid deeply into the wound. For awhile, Khan was sure he would die.

Khan ended up surviving the violence that killed 53 others, most of them Muslims, when it overran his neighborhood in the Indian capital 12 months ago. But one year after India’s worst sectarian riots in decades, the 35-year-old remains shaken and his attacker remains unpunished. Khan says he has been unable to obtain justice due to the police’s lack of interest in his case.

“My only crime is that my name knows my religion,” Khan said at his home in North Gonda, New Delhi.

Many Muslim victims of the bloody violence of the past year say they have been repeatedly refused a police investigation into complaints against Hindu rioters. Some hope the courts will continue to help them. But others now believe that the justice system under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has become stacked against them.

Adding to the sense of injustice, accounts from Muslim victims as well as reports from rights groups indicated that Modi’s BJP leaders and the New Delhi Police Force had tacitly supported Hindu gangs during the frantic violence.

New Delhi police did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but last year insisted that their investigation was fair and that approximately 1,750 people had been detained in connection with the riots – half of them Hindus.

Likewise, young Interior Minister Ji Keishan Reddy told parliament that the police acted swiftly and impartially. But a letter sent by a senior police officer to investigators after five months of riots appears to indicate that they are tolerating Hindus suspected of committing violent acts, prompting criticism from the Delhi High Court.

Sectarian clashes in India are not new, with periodic violence erupting since the British partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. But in the past seven years, observers say, the religious polarization fueled by Modi’s Hindu nationalist base has deepened fault lines and mounting tensions. Many believe that the motivation behind the riots last year was the fiery speech of Modi’s party leader Kapil Mishra.

On February 23, 2020, he issued an ultimatum to the police, warning them not to disperse a sit-in of protesters to protest the new nationality law, which Muslims say is discriminatory, or else he and his supporters will do so themselves. As his supporters mobilized, fierce street battles ignited that quickly turned into riots.

During the next three days, Hindu crowds spread out in the streets The hunt for Muslims In some cases they burned alive in their homes – and entire neighborhoods were burned, including shops and mosques.

Mishra rejects the idea that he is responsible for the riots, describing the allegations as “propaganda” to cover up the “pre-planned genocide of Hindus by Muslims.” On Monday, he said his party had nothing to do with the violence but added, “What I did last year, I will do it again if necessary,” referring to his speech hours before the riots began.

A year later, many Muslims who have been victims of the riots are still shivering for fear of more bloodshed. Hundreds of people abandoned their destroyed homes and moved elsewhere.

Those who chose to stay fortified their neighborhoods with metal gates in the event of further mob attacks. Many say they fear that those responsible will not be held to account.

“Everything has changed since the riots. I think I am slowly losing all my hopes for justice,” Khan said. Khan spent 20 days recovering in hospital after being shot. Since then, he’s been searching for the justice he says is obstructed by the police at every turn. Khan’s official police complaint, which was seen by the Associated Press (AP), listed the names of at least six Hindus from his neighborhood who he said had participated in the violence.

“The defendants are still coming to my house and threatening to kill my entire family,” Khan said in the complaint, adding that he was willing to get to know them in court, and his complaint was not officially accepted.

However, the police lodged a complaint on their own. A different version of events and places gave Khan at least 1 km (0.6 mi) from where he was shot, indicating that he was hit in the crossfire between the two engagement groups. The identity of his attackers was not identified.

Many other stories Muslim victims Follow the same pattern. Police and investigators dismissed hundreds of complaints against Hindu rioters, citing a lack of evidence despite multiple eyewitness accounts.

They included a man who saw his brother shot dead, a father of a 4-month-old boy who witnessed his house burned down, and a boy who lost both arms after a Hindu mob threw a primitive bomb on him. Now, many make weekly trips to the office of Attorney Mahmud Barça, hoping to get justice. Very few attackers saw them put behind bars.

Many others are still waiting for their cases to be heard in court. Pracha, a Muslim, represents at least 100 riot victims for free. He said that there had been multiple cases in which the police had been provided with videos of a Hindu gang, many of them linked to Modi’s party, but “it appears that the police were keen to implicate Muslims” in the riots. He said that in many cases Muslims were also threatened with withdrawing their complaints.

“The police have acted as accomplices in the crime,” said Pracha.

Multiple videos of riots watched by the AP show police inciting Hindu crowds to throw stones at Muslims, destroying security cameras and beating a group of Muslim men – one of whom later died. Several independent fact-finding missions and rights groups have documented the police’s role in the riots.

In June 2020, Human Rights Watch (Human Rights Watch) said that “the police failed to respond adequately” during the riots, and were sometimes “complicit” in attacks against Muslims. She said the authorities had “failed to conduct impartial and transparent investigations.”

One night, Aaron, who uses one name, said he was “still afraid to go out in the evening.” He saw his brother Maarouf being shot dead by his Hindu neighbors during the riots, and the police did not recognize the accused in his complaint despite the multiplicity of eyewitnesses.

Haroun said that he, in turn, was threatened by the police and the defendant to withdraw his complaint.

“We were alone at that time and we are alone now,” he said, almost crying as the children of his deceased brother were sitting next to him. Aaron looked at them and said, “I don’t know what to do.”

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