India riots: Hospitals try to identify dead, Muslims return to burnt mosques

NEW DELHI — Muslims in a northeastern neighborhood of India’s capital returned for weekly prayers at fire-bombed mosques on Friday, two days after a 72-hour clash between Hindus and Muslims that left at least 40 dead and hundreds injured.

Five days after the riots started, authorities have not said what sparked the worst communal violence in New Delhi in decades. Hospitals were still trying to identify the dead as the toll continued to rise, and residents of the areas affected by the riots were still seeking loved ones.

“If they burn our mosques, we will rebuild them again and pray. It’s our religious right and nobody can stop us from practicing 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.

Tensions between Hindu hard-liners and Muslims protesting the Hindu-first policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government had been building for months when the violence exploded Sunday night, on the eve of U.S. President Donald Trump’s first state visit to India.

Kapil Mishra, a local leader of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party who lost his Delhi state assembly seat in recent elections, demanded at a rally 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.

Hindus and Muslims attacked each other with guns and swords, metal rods and axes, leaving the streets where the rioting occurred resembling a war zone.

Al-Hind hospital, a small clinic with two doctors, was the nearest medical facility for many of the victims. When the riots broke out, it turned into a chaotic emergency ward, its doctors dealing for the first time with injuries such as gunshot wounds, crushed skulls, stabbings and torn genitals.

“It was horrific, as if evil had pervaded and housed itself in the hearts of the mob,” said M.A. Anwar, the doctor on duty,

Religious tensions in the area where the clashes occurred still simmered on Friday, tempered by a heavy police presence. On one riot-torn street, Hindus shouted “Jai Shri Ram,” or Long Live Ram, the Hindu god, as Muslims attempted to reach a mosque damaged in the riots.

Several Muslim residents told The Associated Press that most Muslim families had locked their homes and fled the area.

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