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A municipal worker stands next to the remains of vehicles, steel cupboards and other materials on a street in New Delhi, India, on Feb. 27, 2020.Altaf Qadri/The Associated Press

The mob smashed through the gate and cut the electricity. The men stormed up the steps, chanting the name of a Hindu god, and brandishing knives, chains, iron bars and pieces of pipe.

The Musharraf family, who are Muslim, locked themselves in a dark room. Their breadwinner, a thirtysomething rickshaw driver, threw himself under the bed and curled up in a wooden box. But the mob of more than 25 men found him. “Please, I’m also your brother,” he pleaded and folded his hands in front of his chest, a gesture for mercy, according to several survivors. “I also have young kids, like you.”

They clubbed him in the face and dragged him out. Family members, in hiding around the neighbourhood, frantically called the police. No one came.

As India’s worst spasm of religious violence in years entered its sixth day, with the death toll climbing to at least 38, questions are intensifying about why the New Delhi police failed to quell the bloodletting.

Since Sunday, gangs of Hindus and Muslims have clashed with crude weapons and homemade guns. Scores of homes, shops and cars have been set aflame. Many once-integrated communities are ripping apart along sectarian lines, with more accounts emerging of brazen religious targeting.

Witnesses have said that police officers, under the command of a Hindu nationalist governing party that has a long history of vilifying Muslims, intentionally stood back and let Hindu mobs slaughter Muslim civilians.

There are also growing concerns that U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit this week, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had touted for weeks, drew away high-level attention and personnel, leaving neighbourhoods completely exposed at a time of life or death.

Intelligence agents within the police services sent several alerts Sunday asking for more forces to be deployed, but the chaos only grew, according to Indian media. Delhi was preparing for Mr. Trump’s arrival and thousands of police officers were deployed to line the roads Monday as Mr. Trump’s motorcade cruised into town.

“The whole city knew that riots were impending,” said Harsh Mander, a human-rights activist who is pressing the courts to investigate the ringleaders. “Why didn’t the police act?”

At a court hearing Thursday, in which Mr. Mander accused several members of the governing party of engaging in hate speech and inciting the killings, the government asked for more time to investigate. Critics saw this as a stall tactic by Mr. Modi’s government to protect its own. The court gave the government four more weeks.

Alok Kumar, a senior police commander, said he was not aware that Mr. Trump’s visit had affected deployments. But two other government officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said that there had been a shortage of officers because so many had been assigned to provide security for Mr. Trump.

New Delhi, a city of about 20 million people, has about 80,000 police officers. Since it is the capital, they fall under the command of Mr. Modi’s central government. It was only after Mr. Trump left on Tuesday night that forces were shifted, the two officials said.

When Raveesh Kumar, a top government spokesman, was asked Thursday if Mr. Trump’s visit affected the way the riots were handled, he declined to answer.

“Frankly, what led to this and why this happened, I think this of course will be a matter of investigation,” he said. He added that law-enforcement agencies were “working to bring the situation back to normal.”

It is not there yet.

The violence was triggered by dueling protests for and against India’s new citizenship law, which is widely seen as anti-Muslim. Many people have blamed Kapil Mishra, an ambitious politician in Mr. Modi’s party known for making anti-Muslim statements, for instigating the violence. He is among those accused of hate speech.

The family of Musharraf (he had used one name) received a call Wednesday morning after he had been dragged away the previous night. His wife, Mallika, said she had never given up on her husband coming back. “He’s the only person I have in this world,” she said.

A neighbour saw his corpse being lifted out of a ditch, along with six others, she said. His face was smashed.

The family were instructed to go to the Guru Teg Bahadur mortuary, the nearest big one. But authorities delayed releasing his body, dragging out the family’s grief. Nobody was giving any answers. And his was hardly the only body locked behind steel gates.

Both Hindus and Muslims have died, but the killings and property destruction have been lopsidedly against Muslims. Many people believe this is because the state security services are controlled by Hindu nationalists and that police officers abetted the Hindu mobs.

Near the mortuary gates, Mallika leaned against a wall. She closed her eyes. She looked exhausted.

But she wasn’t going anywhere.

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