India rocked by violent protests against ‘anti-Muslim’ citizenship bill
Students have protested in cities across India as part of a massive wave of intensifying violent unrest over a divisive bill granting citizenship to some non-Muslims who entered the country illegally.
During a march on Sunday at Jamia Millia Islamia Universityin Delhi, police entered the campus and detained more than 100 students, beating activists in the street and firing teargas.
Barricades and buses were set alight, and on Monday the university remained closed and nearby schools and offices in south Delhi were shut due to the damage.
Students marching at Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh on Sunday were met with a similar level of brutality, with anti-riot police reportedly firing teargas into crowds protesting peacefully and arresting dozens of students.
An internet block was implemented in the area on Sunday night and remained in place on Monday in an attempt to quell the mounting unrest.
By Monday the protests had spread to university campuses in the cities of Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chandigargh and Kolkata, while in Lucknow students pelted police with stones after they fired teargas at demonstrators.
“Violence against peacefully protesting students cannot under any circumstance be justified. Allegations that the police brutally beat up and sexually harassed students in Jamia Millia Islamia University must be investigated,” Amnesty India said in a statement.
Critics of the citizenship amendment bill, which was signed into law on Thursday, say it openly discriminates against Muslims.
Under the legislation, tens of thousands of Hindu, Christian, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be allowed to claim Indian citizenship. The same will not apply for Muslims.
Rahul Gandhi, the former head of the opposition Congress party, tweeted on Monday that the law and a mooted nationwide register of citizens also seen as anti-Muslim were “weapons of mass polarisation unleashed by fascists”.
Nationwide protests against the bill began in the north-eastern state of Assam and show no sign of relenting. The bill is particularly sensitive in the state, not only because of its religiously divisive nature but also because many local people see the granting of citizenship to those from other countries as a threat to their culture.
On Sunday more than 6,000 people took to the streets in the state’s biggest city, Guwahati, where police and military troops were deployed and a night-time curfew imposed. Organisers have vowed to continue their unrest this week, with big protests planned for Wednesday.
The Assam protests have proved to be some of the bloodiest so far, with the death toll reaching six over the weekend. According to officials, four people died after being shot by police, another was killed when a shop in which he was sleeping was set on fire and a sixth died after he was beaten up during a protest.
Protests also escalated in West Bengal. The first of the state-organised marches against the bill took place on Monday, led by the West Bengal chief minister, Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata, who vowed she would never allow the citizenship bill to be implemented.
They follow days of violence across the state, which is home to around 25 million Muslims. Demonstrators set fire to tyres, staged sit-ins on main roads and railway tracks, and torched trains and buses. Riot police were brought in to disperse protesters and a block on the internet was implemented in some parts of the state.
Several hundred protesters also took to the streets in Kerala, another state that has said it will not allow the bill to be introduced.
In his first comments on the unrest, India’s president, Narendra Modi, tweeted: “Violent protests on the Citizenship Amendment Act are unfortunate and deeply distressing. Debate, discussion and dissent are essential parts of democracy but, never has damage to public property and disturbance of normal life been a part of our ethos.”
Modi dismissed allegations that the bill was discriminatory and he said he wanted to “assure my fellow Indians that CAA does not affect any citizen of India of any religion”.
Hannah Ellis-Petersen in Delhi, Shaikh Azizur Rahman in West Bengal and Ahmer Khan in Assam