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Delhi riots: Anger as judge critical of violence removed

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media captionDelhi religious riots: 'Mobs set fire to my house and shop'

The transfer of a judge critical of the violence in Delhi has raised concerns in India, as politicians come under fire for perceived inaction.

Justice S Muralidhar, who was hearing a petition into the religious riots, had sharply condemned both the government and police on Wednesday.

Orders for his immediate transfer came late at night the same day.

At least 37 people have been killed so far in the deadliest violence the Indian capital has seen in decades.

The clashes first broke out on Sunday between protesters for and against a controversial citizenship law in north-east Delhi.

But they have since taken on communal overtones, with reports of many Muslims being attacked.

Even though the violence largely abated on Wednesday, there were reports of sporadic clashes in affected areas overnight and the city remains tense.

On Thursday, focus had shifted to Justice Muralidhar's transfer from the Delhi high court. His move was first announced nearly two weeks before the violence broke out, but BBC correspondents say that his biting comments in court may have hastened his transfer.

However, the government has insisted that the move was not politically motivated.

The case was taken up again on Thursday and a new bench gave the government a month to respond to the petitions against them.

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image captionThe violence has killed more than 30 people so far

While hearing petitions about the violence, the judge said that the court could not let "another 1984" happen on its "watch". In 1984, more than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in riots against the community in Delhi.

Videos showing leaders from India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) inciting Hindu crowds against largely Muslim protesters were played during the cases he was hearing.

Justice Muralidhar then questioned how police were registering complaints and directed the government to ensure that any displaced victims were given temporary shelter as well as medical treatment.

His comments made headlines on Wednesday, with many praising his "courageous stand".

So the news that he had been removed saw many Indians express concern and outrage.

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But the government has maintained that the transfer was done with the judge's consent and a "well-settled process" was followed.

Justice Muralidhar has not commented on the development.

The law minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, took to Twitter, where most of the outrage was being expressed, to say it was only a "routine transfer".

media captionInside Delhi's night of horror

But, a former Delhi High Court judge questioned the timing of the move, asking: "What was the hurry?"

In an interview with news channel NDTV, Kailash Gambhir called the timing of the order "disturbing".

"The language of the transfer order is not routine," he added.

Opposition parties also remained unconvinced - and continued to blame the government for the violence.

Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi called for the resignation of Home Minister Amit Shah, saying he was "responsible".

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has also been criticised for not coming out when the violence first broke out.

UN Human Rights Council chief Michelle Bachelet expressed concern over reports of police inaction during recent attacks on Muslims in Delhi. Speaking at a conference in Geneva, she appealed to all Indian political leaders to prevent the violence.

'Counting the dead'

Rajini Vaidyanathan, BBC News Delhi

As the death toll climbs in the aftermath of the riots, families of the victims are waiting for the bodies of their loved ones to be released.

At a mortuary in north-east Delhi, a large crowd of relatives has been gathering. Some say their loved ones were beaten to death with rods, while others were shot. One man said his brother died when mobs set his car on fire while he was still in it. There is an uneasy calm here in Delhi today, but the horror continues for the families of those who died. There is also frustration with delays in releasing the bodies. Some families say they were promised they could bury their relatives today, but that is looking uncertain now. Almost all of those waiting for bodies to be released from this morgue are Muslim. Many say they have no homes to go to now, as their houses were either burnt or looted in the violence.

What happened in Delhi?

What initially began as a protest against a controversial citizenship law in north-east Delhi morphed into violent communal clashes on Sunday.

Photographs, videos and accounts on social media painted a chilling image of the city in the last few days - of mostly Hindu mobs beating unarmed men, including journalists; of groups of men with sticks, iron rods and stones wandering the streets; and of Hindus and Muslims facing off.

Many, including journalists, have tweeted and spoken of mobs demanding to know their religion.

Judging by the names released so far, both Muslims and Hindus are among the dead and injured.

The unrest in north-east Delhi was centred around Muslim-majority neighbourhoods - such as Maujpur, Mustafabad, Jaffrabad and Shiv Vihar.

The streets in these areas were littered with stones and shattered glass.

Correspondents described broken and burnt vehicles strewn about, and the stench of smoke from smouldering buildings filling the air.

More than 200 people are injured, according to officials at the Guru Teg Bahadur hospital, where many of them have been admitted.

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  • Delhi religious riots: 'Mobs set fire to my house and shop'