Fresh protests rocked India Monday as anger grew over new citizenship legislation slammed as anti-Muslim, with six people dead in the northeast and up to 100 reported injured in New Delhi.
In the country’s northeast, however, even allowing non-Muslims citizenship is opposed by many locals who fear their culture is threatened by Bengali-speaking Hindus.
Rahul Gandhi, former opposition Congress chief, 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”.
The CAB & NRC are weapons of mass polarisation unleashed by fascists on India. The best defence against these dirty weapons is peaceful, non violent Satyagraha. I stand in solidarity with all those protesting peacefully against the CAB & NRC.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) December 16, 2019
On Sunday night in Delhi, police with batons fired tear gas and charged protesting students before storming a university.
On Monday fresh protests took place in Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and Lucknow, where hundreds of students — most of them Muslims, television pictures indicated — tried to storm a police station, hurling volleys of stones at officers cowering behind a wall.
In Mumbai right now, students reading the Constitution of India, chanting Jai Bhim. Check out the massive police presence. This is at Ambedkar Garden. pic.twitter.com/TfNlPvmTT1
— Rana Ayyub (@RanaAyyub) December 16, 2019
In the east in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal, thousands gathered for a major demonstration called by state premier Mamata Banerjee, a firebrand opponent of Modi.
Students of MCRC, #JamiaMilia -Srijan Chawla and Bhumika Saraswati describe what they saw last evening. Both the girls say students did not indulge in violence. Spoke to them just now at the ongoing protests against #CitizenshipAmendmentAct #CABProtests pic.twitter.com/xlnUqjEfB6
— Shweta Bajaj (@ShwetaBajaj) December 16, 2019
In recent days empty trains were torched there and on Monday internet access remained suspended.
In Kerala in the south, another state whose government refuses to implement the citizenship law, several hundred people also protested. Kerala’s finance minister Thomas Isaac tweeted: “United action of all secular force is the need of the hour.”
Weekend of violence
Protests were reported in Mumbai, West Bengal, Aligarh, Hyderabad, Patna and Raipur over the weekend.
Authorities in northern Uttar Pradesh, meanwhile, have cut internet access in western parts of the state following demonstrations in Aligarh, home to a large university and a sizeable Muslim population.
The main epicentre of the protests has been in India’s far-flung northeastern states, long a seething and violent melting pot of ethnic tensions.
There, where protesters are mostly Hindu, late last week four people died from gunshot wounds, one in a fire and a sixth beaten to death.
On Sunday night in Assam state — following days of rioting and clashes with police — around 6,000 people protested on Sunday evening, with no major incidents reported.
Modi blamed the main opposition Congress party and its allies of “stoking fire”, saying those creating violence “can be identified by their clothes” — a comment interpreted by some as referring to Muslims.
The UN human rights office said last week it was concerned the law “would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India’s constitution”, while Washington and the European Union have also expressed concern.
Massive rally against #CAB and #NRC by #MamataBanerjee.Huge crowd following her.#MamataBanerjee#CitizenshipAmendmentBill #CitizenshipAmendmentAct #CitizenshipBill #JamiaMilia #JamiaProtestsCAB #TrendingNow #CABPolitics #CABProtests pic.twitter.com/cuCbS0xyzt
— Logeshwaran Maripandiyan (@LogeshLanger) December 16, 2019
The new law is being challenged in the Supreme Court by rights groups and a Muslim political party, arguing that it is against the constitution and India’s cherished secular traditions.
Ashok Swain, a professor at Sweden’s Uppsala University said that the scale of the protests had caught Modi’s government, which is presiding over a serious slowdown in economic growth, off guard.
“The protest is getting international attention and also spreading to different parts of the country. This certainly will add pressure on the regime when the economy has failed,” Swain told AFP.