Asia Pacific / Social Issues

Protests over citizenship law spread in India despite ban on big gatherings as top court nixes stay of legislation

AFP-JIJI

Fresh protests broke out across India Wednesday as authorities banned large gatherings in parts of the capital in an effort to contain nationwide protests against a citizenship law seen as discriminating against Muslims.

The rallies and riots over the past few days have turned violent, with six people dead in the northeastern state of Assam and with police firing tear gas and arresting hundreds of people.

In the financial capital of Mumbai, hundreds of people under tight security carried placards with the words “India is Ours” and chanted “We Are All One.

“We just cannot go along with this bill. I can’t believe we now have to prove our citizenship after living in India for so many years,” Tabeer Rizvi told AFP as the Mumbai crowd burst into a Hindi version of the U.S. civil rights movement anthem “We shall overcome.

“I am not surprised to see people of all religions come out to protest this bill.”

The law allowing New Delhi to grant citizenship to non-Muslim nationals from three neighboring countries follows other policies from the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that critics say are designed to marginalize Muslims in the Hindu-majority nation.

A crowd of mostly young people rallied outside Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university to protest the law, defying a ban on gatherings of more than four people in some of the city’s Muslim-dominated districts.

“We are really very angry with the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government. … They have taken racism to the extreme point,” Taiba Hadis, 18, told AFP at the rally.

“They are questioning our existence and it is high time for us to speak up.”

Rallies were also held in other states including West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Telangana.

There were sporadic clashes between police and demonstrators in some cities as well as small counter-protests.

The latest round of protests came as the Supreme Court rejected pleas for an immediate stay on the legislation, but deferred the case to January for extensive hearings.

Petitioners have said the legislation is unconstitutional and counter to India’s cherished secular traditions.

Demonstrations tipped to attract huge crowds were planned for Thursday in major cities across the vast nation.

In the BJP-run state of Karnataka, home to India’s tech hub Bangalore, authorities late Wednesday imposed a ban of large gatherings for three days to stop the protests.

One of two major demonstrations scheduled for Delhi was not granted police permission, although organizers said they planned to march anyway.

At least 21 people, including 12 policemen, were injured in the Delhi clashes in Seelampur district on Tuesday, with police firing tear gas after thousands of protesters threw stones and set fire to buses and a police outpost.

Eight people were arrested for rioting and arson, police said Wednesday.

Another six people were arrested in West Bengal state for hurling a bomb at policemen on Tuesday that injured seven officers.

In Uttar Pradesh, more than 110 people were arrested over the protests, or for posting on social media, police told AFP.

Hostels at the state’s Aligarh Muslim University, where students on Sunday alleged police brutality, were emptied after the administration told residents to start their winter vacation early.

Five people were arrested in Vadodara, in Gujarat state, for scrawling a Nazi swastika next to the lotus logo of Modi’s ruling BJP party that was painted on the wall of the police headquarters.

Modi has remained defiant in the face of the protests and said the law would not affect Indian nationals but protect persecuted Hindu, Sikh and other minorities from Muslim-majority neighbors.

Opposition parties, led by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, met with President Ram Nath Kovind on Tuesday to ask him to advise Modi’s government to withdraw the law.

The U.N. secretary-general’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said Tuesday the global body was “concerned about the violence and alleged use of excessive force by security forces that we’ve seen that have been taking place.

“We very much call for restraint and urge full respect for the rights of freedom of opinion and expression and peaceful assembly,” he added.

Authorities have imposed internet blackouts and used force to shut down rallies and sit-ins, but protesters have vowed to keep up their fight until the law is revoked.