Multiple vehicles were set on fire, metal barricades torn down and thick smoke billowed as supporters of the new law clashed with opponents. A small contingent of police was vastly outnumbered.
India’s capital has been a hotbed of protests against the law, which eases the path of non-Muslims from three neighbouring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.
This has led to accusations that Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are undermining India’s secular traditions.
The BJP denies any bias against India’s more than 180 million-strong Muslim minority, but objectors have been holding protests and camping out in parts of New Delhi for two months.
Monday’s clashes were among the worst seen in New Delhi since the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) began in early December.
The latest round of violence came as Trump began his first visit to India, addressing a rally in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.
‘Go ahead and throw stones’
The clashes stretched over nearly a kilometre and lasted for hours. Police imposed an emergency law prohibiting any gatherings in the violence-hit areas.
The protesters appeared to be divided along religious lines, and some repeatedly hailed Hindu god Ram while pelting stones at the predominantly Muslim group opposed to the new law.
The clashes were among the worst seen in New Delhi since the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) began in early December.
A witness saw at least one Muslim man and a burqa-clad woman beaten by dozens of pro-law protesters with sticks and iron rods.
Earlier on Monday, local politician Yogendra Yadav described the violence as “communal” and urged police to intervene.
But for several hours, witnesses saw the outnumbered policemen mostly stand beside those backing the citizenship law, a majority Hindu group, and do little to quell the violence. The police also stood by as a mob vandalised a store with a Muslim name, pulling out vehicles and setting them alight.
“Go ahead and throw stones,” one policeman shouted to protesters backing the law, during one of the running battles.
On side streets, young boys drained fuel from motorcycles to make petrol bombs, and protesters pulled up paving stones and flung construction material at opponents.
“We are in support of the [law] CAA. If they want to protest, they should go somewhere else,” said a protester who gave his name as Amit.
India’s junior Home Minister G Kishan Reddy said the violence was a “conspiracy to shame India globally” during Trump’s visit.
“We have deployed additional forces, and we will do everything to bring law and order under control,” he told ANI.
In Gujarat, Trump told a gathering of more than 100,000 people that “India is a country that proudly embraces freedom, liberty, individual rights, the rule of law, and the dignity of every human being”.
The White House put out a promotional video purporting to show only thousands of adoring fans, but others on social media also posted videos of hundreds of people leaving the stadium during Trump’s speech.