Protests over citizenship law: Modi govt faces strongest show of dissent


More than 1,500 protesters, including women and children have been arrested across India in the past 10 days, officials said, as police try to quell sometimes violent demonstrations against a citizenship law that critics say undermines the country’s secular constitution.

Hundreds of protesters and police have been injured in the protests, the strongest show of dissent against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government since he was first elected in 2014. Modi met his council of ministers on Saturday to discuss security measures related to the protests, government sources said. Demonstrations continued on Saturday despite curfews and tough measures aimed at shutting down the protests.

Additionally, some 4,000 people have been detained and then released, the officials said. Those arrested and detained had been resorting to violence during the protests, said two senior federal government officials overseeing the country’s internal security who spoke on condition of anonymity.

At least 21 people have been killed in clashes between police and protesters since parliament passed the law on Dec. 11. Critics of the law say it discriminates against Muslims and threatens India’s secular ethos because it makes religion a criteria for citizenship.

The law aims to grant citizenship to minorities of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, Jain and Parsi faiths from Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, deemed as suffering persecution there. The applicant should have entered India on or before Dec. 31, 2014.

India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has seen the worst violence with nine people killed and several more in critical conditions in hospital. The state, which has long seen clashes between majority Hindus and minority Muslims, is ruled by Modi’s nationalist party.

Rights activists in the state said police had raided their houses and offices to prevent them from planning fresh demonstrations. Authorities also shut schools across the state as fresh protests erupted on Saturday.

More demonstrations were planned in several parts of the country, including in the northeastern state of Assam. Resentment against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has simmered for years in Assam, one of India’s poorest states, where some residents accuse outsiders, Hindus or Muslims, of stealing jobs and land. “Women in Assam have shown that we can lead a movement from the front,” Garima Garg, a fashion designer, said. She was among thousands who took part in an all-woman protest across Assam on Saturday.

Critics of the law say it has struck a blow to a country that has long taken pride in its secular constitution. India has a population of 1.3 billion, with a majority of Hindus, a large minority of Muslims and several other smaller faiths.

“This piece of legislation strikes at the heart of the Constitution, seeking to make India another country altogether,” prominent historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in The Telegraph. He was released from police custody on Thursday after being detained for protesting against the law in the southern city of Bengaluru.

Political opposition against the law has included state leaders from regional parties saying they will prevent its implementation in their states. The government has said there is no chance the law will be repealed.

On Saturday, right-wing Hindu organisations and academicians expressed support for the law. Over 1,000 professors and scholars congratulated the parliament and government for what they said was a progressive law standing up for forgotten minorities. “We also note with deep anguish that an atmosphere of fear and paranoia is being created in the country through deliberate obfuscation and fear-mongering, leading to violence in several parts of the country,” they said in a statement.

Meanwhile, chief ministers of West Bengal, Punjab, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have announced the CAB was ‘unconstitutional’ and has no place in their respective states. Thirteen people died across India during widespread protests and violence against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB). Ten people died in Uttar Pradesh, Indian media reported Saturday. While two people died in Bijnor, one died in Kanpur, one in Firozabad and another one in Sambhal. Three people had died during the demonstrations against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Two persons died in Karnataka’s Bengaluru and another one died in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. The cause of death would be known after a post-mortem on the victims, officials said.

Director-General of Police OP Singh has, however, maintained that none of the deaths were due to police action on the protesters.

Protesters clashed with police during anti-CAB demonstrations in Bhadohi, Bahraich, Amroha, Farurukhabad, Ghaziabad, Varanasi, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur, Hapur, Hathras, Bulandshahr, Hamirpur and Mahoba districts in Uttar Pradesh.

Mobile internet services remain suspended in Aligarh, Mau, Azamgarh, Lucknow, Kanpur, Bareilly, Shahjahanpur, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahr, Sambhal and Allahabad in view of the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Security forces were put on high alert on Friday in various parts of the country including in Kerala and Karanataka where protesters disrupted road and rail traffic after last night’s death of two persons in alleged police firing during protests against the amended citizenship law.

Prohibitory orders were imposed in 12 police station areas of Northeast Delhi. Violent protests were reported from Delhi Gate area in Daryaganj, Delhi. A car which was parked outside the DCP’s office in Daryaganj was torched. The protesters and the police clashed in the area, resulting in the latter resorting to water cannons to disperse the crowd. At least 40 people demonstrating against the Citizenship Act at Delhi Gate were detained by the Delhi Police.

Besides, the Delhi Police used drones to keep a vigil on the protests across the city. At one point in time, Delhi Metro had closed its exit and entry gates to 16 Metro stations, including in the Old Delhi areas. People carrying out a march from Jamia Masjid area in Delhi to Jantar Mantar were stopped near Delhi Gate as police barricaded all the arterial roads in the area, triggering traffic jams.

Delhi Police has allegedly detained women and children in the aftermath of the violence which took place at Delhi gate in New Delhi.

According to several activists outside the police station, the cops have not allowed the parents of the detained children or lawyers to go inside the station, citing law and order situation. All schools, colleges and universities across Uttar Pradesh will remain shut on Saturday, state officials said.