India: Protests Spread over 'Anti-Muslim' Law

Monday, 16 December, 2019 - 08:45
Asharq Al-Awsat

Fresh deadly protests rocked India Monday as anger grew over new citizenship legislation slammed as anti-Muslim.

The law fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from three neighboring countries, but critics allege it is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist agenda to marginalize the 200 million Indians who follow Islam.

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.

Modi, who insists he is not anti-Muslim, said the citizenship law is "1,000 percent correct" and that Muslims from the three countries are not covered because they have no need of India's protection.

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 polarization unleashed by fascists".

Six people have died in the protests in the northeast and up to 100 reported injured in New Delhi.

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 tried to storm a police station, hurling volleys of stones at officers cowering behind a wall.

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.

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."

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 epicenter of the protests has been in India's far-flung northeastern states.

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.”

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.

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.

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