NEW DELHI — At least 20 people were killed in three days of clashes in New Delhi coinciding with President Donald Trump's first state visit to India, with the death toll expected to rise as hospitals were overflowed with dozens of injured people, authorities said Wednesday.
New Delhi's top elected official, Chief Minister Arjind Kerjiwal, called Wednesday for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to send the Indian army to areas in a northeastern corner of the sprawling capital affected by the riots.
Police characterized the situation as tense but under control. Schools remained closed, and a ban on assembly continued.
The clashes between Hindu mobs and Muslims protesting a contentious new citizenship law that fast-tracks naturalization for foreign-born religious minorities of all major faiths in South Asia except Islam escalated Tuesday, according to Rouf Khan, 43, a resident of Mustafabad, an area in northeast New Delhi.
Khan said the mobs were wielding iron rods, bricks and bamboo sticks and attacked the homes of Muslims amid chants of "Jai Shri Ram," or “Victory to Lord Ram,” the popular Hindu god of the religious epic “Ramayana.”
As Air Force One flew Trump and his delegation out of New Delhi late Tuesday, Muslim families huddled in a mosque in a northeast corner of the city, praying that Hindu mobs wouldn't burn it down.
“After forcing their way inside the homes, they went on a rampage and started beating people and breaking household items,” said Khan, adding that he and his family had to run out of fear and take shelter inside a nearby mosque that he said was guarded by thousands of Muslim men.
“I don’t know if our house was burned or not, but when we were running away we heard them asking people to pour kerosene and burn everything down,” Khan said.
Although autopsies were pending, some of those killed had bullet wounds, according to Dr. Sunil Kumar, medical director of the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital.
Others came to the hospital with gunshot or stab wounds, injuries incurred from jumping from heights and head injuries.
Among them was Mohammad Sameer, 17, who was being treated for a gunshot wound to his chest Wednesday at Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital.
Speaking to The Associated Press after an operation, Sameer said he was standing on his family's apartment terrace watching Hindu mobs enter Mustafabad when he was shot in the chest.
“When Sameer was shot, I took him on my shoulders and ran downstairs," said the boy's father, Mohammad Akram. “But the when the mob saw us, they beat me and my injured son. He was bleeding very badly. While they were beating with sticks, they kept on chanting Jai Shri Ram slogans and threatened to barge inside our homes.”
Akram said he managed to get his son into an auto rickshaw, but they were stopped several times by Hindus demanding they pull their pants down to show whether they were circumcised before they managed to escape from the area and reach the emergency room.
In addition to the deaths, at least 189 people were injured in the clashes, said Anil Kumar, a New Delhi police spokesman.
Trump told reporters Tuesday that he had heard about the violence but had not discussed it with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Instead, Trump gloated about a mega-rally Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party-led government organized for him in Modi's home state of Gujarat that drew an estimated 125,000 people.
India has been rocked by violence since Parliament approved the citizenship law in December. Opponents have said the country is moving toward a religious citizenship test, but Trump, in keeping with his tendency not to criticize the leaders of countries he has visited, declined to comment on it.
“I don't want to discuss that. I want to leave that to India and hopefully they're going to make the right decision for the people,” he said.
Black smoke rose into the sky over northeastern New Delhi on Tuesday after Hindu protesters set fruit and vegetable shops and a Muslim shrine on fire, witnesses said.
Television images showed streets littered with mangled remains of vehicles, rocks and burned tires in the worst-hit areas of Chand Bagh, Bhajanpura, Gokulpuri, Maujpur, Kardampuri and Jaffrabad, which witnesses pitched battles between the rival groups who also hurled gasoline bombs and opened fire on Monday and Tuesday.
The group of protesting Hindus shouted praise for Hindu gods and goddesses. Police fired tear gas to disperse them and a group of rival Muslims. The two groups retreated to the opposite sides of a highway.