Expressing “grave concern” over the violence in Delhi, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has said that the horrific incident that has so far killed 34 people, was specifically targeted against the Muslims.

The USCIRF in a statement said that as President Donald Trump’s inaugural visit to India winds down, Northeast Delhi has been rocked by deadly rioting, with reports of violence and mobs specifically targeting Muslims.

“These incidents are even more concerning in the context of efforts within India to target and potentially disenfranchise Muslims across the country, in clear violation of international human rights standards,” USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava said.

“According to reports, several mosques have also been set alight or vandalized. Many Muslim residents have been forced to flee the area. This unrest comes in the wake of widespread protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act following its passage in December 2019.

“The brutal and unchecked violence growing across Delhi cannot continue,” Bhargava said adding that the Indian government must take swift action to ensure the safety of all of its citizens.

“Instead, reports are mounting that the Delhi police have not intervened in violent attacks against Muslims, and the government is failing in its duty to protect its citizens.”

USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins said the ongoing violence in Delhi and the reported “attacks against Muslims, their homes and shops, and their houses of worship are greatly disturbing”.

One of the essential duties of any responsible government, he said, is to provide protection and physical security for its citizens, regardless of faith.

“We urge the Indian government to take serious efforts to protect Muslims and others targeted by mob violence.”

Reacting to the statements, India on Thursday described the comments by the USCIRF and by “few individuals” over the violence in Delhi as “factually inaccurate, misleading” and an attempt to politicise the issue.

Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said: “We have seen comments made by USCIRF, sections of the media and a few individuals regarding recent incidents of violence in Delhi. These are factually inaccurate and misleading, and appear to be aimed at politicising the issue”.

Earlier, a frontrunner in the Democratic presidential election, Bernie Sanders, had slammed US President Donald Trump for failing to address the issue of human rights while he was visiting India.

Though the Ministry of External Affairs did not clarify the individuals being referred to, it is being seen as a reference to US lawmakers critical of India on the issue of the Delhi violence.

In its annual report last year, the USCIRF classified India as a “Tier 2” country for engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, egregious standard for designations as a “country of particular concern (CPC)”, under the International Religious Freedom Act.

Meanwhile, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and the Indian-American Muslim Council (IAMC) issued statements condemning the violence.

“We strongly condemn the violence, loss of life and destruction of places of worship in India this week. There is no religious, historical or political justification possible for what is happening in New Delhi,” Suhag Shukla from the HAF said, adding that the perpetrators, no matter the religious community to which they belong, should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The IAMC urged the “international community to call out India for its relentless attacks on minorities and marginalized communities”.

The Ministry of External Affairs said that the law enforcement agencies are working on the ground to prevent violence and ensure restoration of confidence and normalcy.

“Senior representatives of the government have been involved in that process. The prime minister has publicly appealed for peace and brotherhood. We would urge that irresponsible comments are not made at this sensitive time,” said MEA Spokesperson Kumar.

(With agency inputs)