Indian army fails to quell Bombay riots

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The Independent Online
THE INDIAN army failed to restore order yesterday in Bombay, racked for the past eight days by clashes between Muslims and Hindus which, according to unofficial hospital reports, may have left more than 400 dead.

Most of the victims were Muslims, according to newspapers and eyewitnesses who visited Bombay's overflowing morgues. One prominent Muslim leader, Zafarya Jilani, yesterday accused the city's security forces of colluding with a Hindu extremist group, the Shiv Sena, whose armed gangs are said to be behind the clashes.

Thousands of poor Muslims abandoned Bombay's blazing shanty towns and thronged to the main station to escape the city on the few trains still running. Others said they had been chased out of their homes and shops by mobs of Hindu extremists. The Times of India commented: 'There is method in the madness that has descended on the city. It has virtually been a pogrom declared against the Muslims. Only their homes, shops and cars have been singled out in a systematic vendetta.'

In those neighbourhoods where Hindus are strong and Muslims weak, an exodus of Muslims has begun. The reverse is happening in the Bombay districts where Muslims predominate. Mobs are stabbing, looting and burning the homes and shops of those who belong to the rival community.

Shops, schools, banks and the stock exchange remained closed. Pressure is now mounting on the Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, to declare a state of emergency in Bombay. This would mean deploying more troops to strengthen the 6,000 security forces already there who have failed to quell the plague of looting and arson that has fallen on this city. Last night, police fired into mobs in 12 different neighbourhoods.

A third of Bombay's 12 million people live in slums, and it has been in these vile heaps of tin and cardboard, which spread for miles, that the violence has claimed most of its victims. Officially, the death toll has been put at more than 200 but doctors in Bombay's hospitals claim it is now double that.

In New Delhi, the Congress government has been thrown into disarray over its failure to extinguish the religious fury. Mr Rao seems paralysed. He has failed to make any public appeals for calm, while his ministers bicker over who is to blame for the latest flare-up of communal hatred.

The nation is still reeling from the destruction of a controversial mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya on 6 December by Hindu zealots. In the aftermath of the mosque's destruction, India was convulsed by fighting between Muslims and Hindus, which left around 1,000 dead.

Lal Krishna Advani, the leader of the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata party, blamed by the government for sabotaging relations between Hindus and Muslims, yesterday remarked: 'This killing of innocents makes me ashamed. We appeal to all - Muslims and Hindus alike - to stop.'

(Photograph omitted)