A year on, India's riot victims say justice still unserved

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Muhammad Nasir Khan, who was shot by a Hindu mob during the February 2020 communal riots, poses for a photograph inside his home in North Ghonda, one of the worst riot affected neighborhood, in New Delhi, India, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. As the first anniversary of bloody communal riots that convulsed the Indian capital approaches, Muslim victims are still shaken and struggling to make sense of their struggle to seek justice. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

NEW DELHI – The shooter shouted “Victory to Lord Ram,” the Hindu god, before pulling the trigger that sent a bullet into Muhammad Nasir Khan’s left eye.

Khan placed his trembling hand on his bloody eye socket and his fingers slipped deep into the wound. At that moment, Khan was sure he would die.

Khan ended up surviving the violence that killed 53 others, mostly fellow Muslims, when it engulfed his neighborhood in the Indian capital 12 months ago.

But a year after India's worst communal riots in decades, the 35-year-old is still shaken and his attacker still unpunished. Khan says he's been unable to get justice due to a lack of police interest in his case.

“My only crime is that my name identifies my religion,” Khan said at his home in New Delhi's North Ghonda neighborhood.

Many of the Muslim victims of last year's bloody violence say they have run repeatedly into a refusal by police to investigate complaints against Hindu rioters. Some hope the courts will still come to their help. But others now believe the justice system under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government has become stacked against them.

Adding to the sense of injustice is that accounts from Muslim victims as well as reports from rights groups have indicated that leaders of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and the New Delhi police force tacitly supported the Hindu mobs during the fevered violence.

New Delhi police did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but they insisted last year that their investigation had been fair and that nearly 1,750 people had been booked in relation to the riots — half of them Hindus. Junior Home Minister G. Kishan Reddy has likewise told Parliament that police acted swiftly and impartially.