This article from the BBC describes appalling violence in the Indian capital, which has led to a death toll of 27 at the time of writing.

The article mentions that the spark that ignited the riots was a controversial citizenship law, protests against which have devolved into clashes between opposing sides, and further into crudely armed mobs of Hindus & Muslims facing off.

My question, therefore, is what is the root cause of the riots? Why is the aforementioned citizenship bill so controversial and why has this led to increased tensions between Hindus and Muslims?

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    The most recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver explains it all in a very concise and entertaining manner. I would highly recommend watching it if you're able to. (Season 7, Episode 2)
    – jimbeeer
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 13:47
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    @jimbeeer You mean this episode? Keep in mind, though, that John Oliver is a political comedian at first. Even though his team usually does pretty good research, the presentation is primarily aimed at entertaining a mostly progressive target audience. Providing factual and unbiased information is secondary.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 14:00
  • @Philipp that’s an understatement of the century. John Oliver’s show is the left-wing equivalent of Tucker Carlson :-) Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 14:36

6 Answers 6


A bit of background is necessary. Recently India passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). It allows only non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan to get citizenship on the grounds of religious persecution. The CAA itself is controversial because they exclude Muslims. Also, to understand the full power of CAA, you need to combine it with another act, the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

NRC was implemented in the state of Assam (which is bordered with Bangladesh) at first. To prove that you are a citizen, you need to prove that you or your ancestors were Indian before March 24, 1971.

Now, here is the problem. To prove that your ancestors were Indian 50 years ago is no easy task. Many people don't have 50-year-old passports or ration cards. Many of the genuine citizens had no lands so land documents are not available. The area is prone to floods. Record keeping is tough in a backward place like Assam.

So, when the NRC was implemented in Assam, it caused some problems. Even some people who fought in the Indian army were ineligible. Not only Muslims; Hindus were also affected by this. Not to mention there were complaints of tampering which are common in India.

To summarize, it is very much possible that, even if you or your ancestors lived in India for more than 50 years, there is still a chance to exclude you because you don't have 50-year-old documents. But the thing is, according to CAA, a non-Muslim can claim that he is persecuted in Bangladesh or Pakistan to get citizenship. But what can a Muslim Indian do? Nothing except to leave India. This is why when you combine NRC and CAA the result is devastating for Indian Muslims.

Now, another part of the picture. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The current prime minister of India, Narendra Modi is a member of both organizations. They promote Hindutva, an extreme brand of Hindu nationalism.

In 2002, there was a Gujarat pogrom which saw the deaths of thousands of people, most of them were Muslims. Modi was chief minister of Gujarat state back then. USA, UK, EU denied visas for Modi for his role in the violence. These were lifted a year or two before he became the prime minister.

This is why there is violence going on in Delhi right now. They are making sure of various ways to make Muslims leave India or be submissive to "Hindutva".

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    I meant tampering. India is highly corrupt country. Although they are better than their neighbors. Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 13:51
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    A question appearing in the HNQ deserves more neutral answers than this one, most of which is a rant, and the rest is also quite opinion-driven. We should stay neutral and state facts, and not talk about who is evil and who is right.
    – vsz
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 22:56
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    @vsz Stating facts doesn't always mean staying in the middle of two opposing viewpoints. Sometimes the facts really do favor one side. For an extreme example of this, look at the flat-earth movement, which has precisely zero facts on its side. In that case, it's nearly impossible to state any facts without favoring the conclusion that the earth is round. Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 23:00
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    @probably_someone : then just look at the other up-voted answer. It states the same basic info, in a more neutral tone, without accusing a whole government of basically being nazis.
    – vsz
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 23:02
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    @probably_someone : And if I linked similar statements from Muslim leaders, stating that democracy is against the will of Allah, and it must be replaced by any means possible... I will probably get banned. So I won't do this, and you win this round, because some groups are allowed to use some arguments, others are not allowed to use the same arguments. Congratulations!
    – vsz
    Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 10:14

The Citizenship Act of 2019 gives refugees who have fled persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan a path to Indian citizenship, but it only applies to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian refugees. Muslims are not eligible. This is a charged issue because many people living in India have no documentary proof of their citizenship. It also comes against the background of the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which now has the Prime Ministership, and a majority in the national parliament. They displaced the India National Congress Party, which had dominated the Indian government from independence until 2014.

The Indian National Congress Party explicitly advocated for India as a secular state. The BJP official position is that it advocates Hindutva, the primacy of Indian over western cultural values, but others see it as a Hindu Nationalist Party that will try to transform India into an explicitly Hindu state. The passage of a law that explicitly disadvantages Muslims, doubtless inflames those concerns.

On top of that, there are also Indian Nationalists who don't want a path to citizenship for any refugees.

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    My impression was that the Citizenship Act does not explicitly apply only to the religions you mentioned, but simply specifies that it applies to "minority" religions, and all the nations it specifies are majority Muslim, therefore it de facto doesn't apply to Muslims. Is this true?
    – Nacht
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 2:05
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    @Nacht those religions are specifically mentioned in the act, but the stated purpose is to offer protection to persecuted members of minority religions from those areas. The omission of Muslims is an issue though, because those countries do have minority Muslim sects that arguably do suffer persecution. The linked Wikipedia article on the Citizenship has more details. Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 2:24
  • @Nacht - You are correct. Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 5:33

Sit back, It is going to be a long post on "why protests against CAA doesn't hold any merit?" and "why north-east Delhi riots are not spontaneous but pre-planned Islamist mob attack to create anarchy in the name of Anti-CAA protest?".

CAA(citizen amendment act): Its main purpose is to fast-track citizenship for religious minorities from three neighboring theocratic Islamic states which have a history of brutal persecution of minorities. It closely mirrors the USA's 'Lautenberg Act'. Apart from providing citizenship to minority refugees who entered India on or before 2014, it reduces the aggregate period of residence required for naturalization from 11 to 5 yrs.

CAA Act pdf

Q. Why CAA is needed?
After the partition, India-Pakistan created the Nehru-Liaqat pact which was supposed to safeguard the rights of minorities. Hindu majority India followed the pact while Muslim-majority Pakistan turned a blind eye towards the crimes committed against minorities. The Bangladesh liberation war created a huge refugee crisis in India(Link). The population of non-muslims has reduced drastically in both Pakistan and Bangladesh. Every year 1000s of Hindus migrate to India.
They face bonded labor and slavery. Link
Forced marriages and conversion. Link Link

Q. Does CAA affect Indian Muslims?
No, absolutely not.

Q. Does CAA affect non-Indian Muslims?
No, they can apply for citizenship in the same manner as they were doing before CAA. In fact, the BJP led NDA government has awarded citizenship to more than 500 Muslims. Link

Q. Why the opposition parties are protesting if the law is humanitarian in nature?
The opposition is protesting against the act to discredit a democratically elected government and revive their sinking electoral fortunes. All the leaders of opposition parties in the past have voiced their support for citizenship to persecuted religious minorities.
1. Former PM Manmohan Singh requesting citizenship for religious minorities Video Link
2. Assam Pradesh congress committee passed a resolution requesting citizenship for minorities Link
3. West Bengal CM Mamta Banerjee against the citizenship to Bangladeshi Muslims Video Link
4. CPI(M) Prakash karat requesting citizenship for minorities Link
For more details Link

Q. What about NRC?
As such, the government has not created any draft of the new NRC. Speculating on provisions of not yet known NRC is simply fearmongering.

North-East Delhi Riots

The precursor to NE-delhi riots
Violent Anti-CAA protests have been going on for the last few months by Islamists mobs. They have burned trains, buses, police posts, Railway stations, and lynched policemen to show their opposition to CAA.
1. West Bengal, Beldanga Railway station set on fire Video Link
2. West Bengal , Murshidabad , Five trains set on fire Video Link
3. Gujrat, Ahmedabad, Islamist Mob brutally attacking policemen Video link
4. Another video of mob lynching policemanVideo link
5. Islamist loses his hand in seelampur Anti-CAA riots while preparing petrol bombVideo Link
6. School Bus attacked with stones by Islamists Video Link
There many other videos available on social media detailing violent protests of Anti-CAA mobs.

Q. Were riots planned to coincide with President Trump's visit?
India has a history of violence by terrorists and Islamists during visits of US presidents.
1. Killing of Sikhs by terrorists in kashmir during Bill clinton's visit Link
2. Unrest in kashmir during Obama visits.
3. Anti-Bush protests turn violent Link
The reason is to bring disrepute to the country. They knew that the security apparatus would be heavily stretched due to president Trump's visit.

Involvement of criminal gangs and ISIS Indian module
Delhi police have already mentioned the involvement of two criminals gangs Nasir and Irfan. These gangs were hired to create anarchy.Link
A year back Delhi police busted an ISIS(Islamic state) module in Jaffrabad which is the epicenterLink of Delhi riots.
Mohammad Shahrukh who fired eight rounds at Policemen is a son of notorious drug peddlers and fake currency suppliers. Link
Muslim couple linked to ISIS Khorasan module arrested for Delhi riots Link

House of Horrors: The house belonging to AAP councillor Tahir hussain has emerged as the riot factory.
1. Cache of stones, molotov cocktails, and acid pouches in his house Link
2. Murdered IB(Intelligence Bureau) officer Ankit Sharma's brother has accused Tahir Hussain. According to forensic reports "He was brutally and repeatedly stabbed."Link
3. Makeshift Catapult used in the riots. Link
4. Half burned clothes of woman recovered from Tahir's house and naked woman body from drain near Tahir's House Link.

Now, some arguments against the points mentioned in the other answers.
1. Narendra Modi was acquitted by the highest court in India. The supreme court was completely satisfied with the probe.
2. Assam NRC initiated by congress led UPA and monitored by the Indian judiciary.
3. For all the claims of the genocide of Muslims in Kashmir, not a single Muslim has been killed from armed forces bullets after the removal of article 370. For first time, the valley is seeing prospects of development and education.
4. Those who mention Kashmir somehow sidestep the massacre and forced exodus of lakhs of minorities in Kashmir who were the original inhabitants of the valley.
5. All those claiming Hindus are intolerant conveniently forget that it was a Hindu land that gave refuge to Parsis, Syrian Christians and Jews fleeing persecution from Islamists.
6. All tall claims that the current government is discriminatory to Muslims are categorically false. On the contrary, NDA government brought a law to ban Triple Talaq, gave scholarships to Muslims(Link), created Hunar-Haat to promote craftsman skills in the minorities.


What is the root cause of the riots?

Muslims' rejection of CAA is the root cause of the riots.

Why is the aforementioned citizenship bill so controversial and why has this led to increased tensions between Hindus and Muslims?

Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc have been the reason for the persecution of minorities due to theological reasons because of being theocratic nations. The government granted citizenship to those who have been here before 2014, except Muslims, due to them being persecuted. Citizenship was supposed to be given based on religion because persecution happened due to religion.

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    Well, that's one side of the coin. Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 11:03
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    From the article: "mostly Hindu mobs beating unarmed men, including journalists" – so the Hindu mobs are rioting because Muslims reject the CAA? Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 12:06
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    @dasdingonesin Then how come the majority of the victims are Hindus? Western media is incredibly biased.
    – user14856
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 16:03

"Riots" is a polite way of putting it. "Pogroms" is probably more accurate.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Narendra Modi (who has form as Governor of Gujarat state) is a Hindu nationalist party. It - and Modi - have close links with various extremist Hindu Nationalist groups, whose mottos include things like "India for Hindus". One such is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary organisation with several million members. It is about as nasty as right-wing paramilitary organisations get.

The citizenship laws provide automatic citizenship to Hindu immigrants but not to Muslim ones. This goes against the founding principle of the Indian state, that it should be a secular country. Hindu nationalists have never really accepted this: it was a Hindu nationalist who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. Hindu-Muslim riots, or rather, Hindu mobs attacking Muslims, are not new in India. Over a million people died in the riots that followed partition in 1949. 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom when Modi was governor (the Supreme Court of India cleared him of wrongdoing in 2012. Many observers think that like OJ Simpson he was lucky to get away with it).

The current pogroms in Delhi are still relatively minor. It is likely that Modi is gearing up for a wholesale genocide of Muslims in Kashmir, where they are in the majority. Since last summer, Kashmiris have been cut off from the Internet and almost all contact with the outside world. Modi learned the lesson of the 2011 Arab Spring - if the people have smartphones, the world can see what is happening.

Ethnonationalism of any sort is always evil, and Indian Hindu nationalism is just another sort of ethnonationalism. While we in the West have been concerned about the rise of the far right in places like Hungary, Poland, Germany, France, Brexit Britain and Trump's America, it seems to be further down the road in India.

I really, really hope I am wrong about this, but things are not looking good for India right now.

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    “The citizenship laws provide automatic citizenship to Hindu immigrants but not to Muslim ones.“ - do you have a citation that Hindus are the only religion that have a path to citizenship?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 21:19
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    "Ethnonationalism of any sort is always evil" - moral judgements aren't appropriate on this stack exchange - these sites are about facts, not moral judgements.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Mar 1, 2020 at 1:06
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    History is important here. The partition of India in 1947 was a result of the Indian Muslim League's demand of a separate nation for Muslims. That demand was met and a separate nation of Pakistan was created. Now, the partition didn't happen peacefully, as a result a few non-Muslim religions were left behind and are now minorities in Pakistan and other surrounding Islamic nations. Indian government has formulated CAA as a helping hand to those minority communities of Indian origin who are met with violence in the nearby Islamic countries.
    – Noeshel
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 17:42
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    If "... the founding principle of the Indian state, that it should be a secular country." is correct, what was the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution about? Plus, India's version of secularism is significantly different than simple separation of state and religion.
    – DK Bose
    Commented Sep 29, 2020 at 10:28

The root cause of riots was Extremists/Opposition.

The CAA, is not related to anyone who is living in India. This is about the Minorities(not any religion) who lives in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghan.

Minorities who is being persecuted in these countries, as per CAA they will have right to get Citizenship of India.

Now, the Indian muslims were saying that mushlims also from these 3 countries, should have the right to get Citizenship of India. Hence riots provoked. CAA has no relation with NRC or any other act.

CAB - Citizenship Amendment Bill(When it proposed)
CAA - Citizenship Amendment Act(When it passed)
NRC - National Register of Citizens(Not proposed yet)

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