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India citizenship law protests rage on despite security clampdown

GUWAHATI: Congress Party activists and supporters shout slogans during a rally against India’s new citizenship law, in Guwahati yesterday.-AFP

MEERUT/LUCKNOW: India deployed thousands of police and shut down mobile internet services across many cities to control protests against a new citizenship law, with flashpoint Friday prayers passing largely peacefully. Security was particularly tight in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 19 people have been killed since the protests began on Dec. 12, out of at least 25 deaths nationwide.

Authorities had feared that large crowds could gather after the weekly Muslim congregational prayers. Demonstrations were held after Friday prayers in the cities of Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Mumbai, but there were no major reports of violence as of 1200 GMT. In Meerut, where five people were killed after violence last Friday, there were no gatherings. Nearly 3,000 police were deployed, four times more than last week, the city’s police chief told Reuters.

The legislation makes it easier for minorities from India’s Muslim majority neighbors – Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – who settled before 2015 to get citizenship but does not make the same concessions for Muslims. Critics say the law – and plans for a national citizenship register – discriminate against Muslims and are an attack on the country’s secular constitution by the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The government has said no citizen will be affected and that there are no imminent plans for a register. On Friday, mobile internet services were ordered shut in many parts of Utter Pradesh, including in the provincial capital Luck now, the state government said.

In the national capital New Delhi, police imposed an emergency law in some parts of the city, forbidding large gatherings, news channels reported. Such prohibitions have been in place in Uttar Pradesh for more than a week. Thousands of demonstrators, waving Indian flags and holding placards rejecting the new law, protested peacefully in Bengaluru city amid a heavy police presence.

“I am here because the NRC is wrong,” said Iqbal Ahmed, 42, a Muslim carpet seller and one of the protesters, referring to the register of citizens.

“This is our land and I am from here… Are we not Indian?” Muslims, India’s second biggest community by religion, account for about 14 percent of its 1.3 billion people. Some parts of the country also saw rallies in favor of the new citizenship law but were outnumbered by demonstrations and protests against the legislation.

Meanwhile, the chief minister of India’s Uttar Pradesh state has rebuffed accusations from rights groups of police abuses during protests against a new citizenship law, crediting his tough stand with restoring calm to the streets. The northern state has seen the most violent turmoil over Prime.

The state’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, a hardline Hindu priest who belongs to Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, said his tough policies had ended the trouble. “Every rioter is shocked. Every troublemaker is astonished.

Looking at the strictness of the Yogi government, everyone is silent,” one of Adityanath’s verified official accounts on Twitter said late on Friday. “Do whatever you want to, but the damages will be paid by those who cause damages,” it added. Last week, his government said it was demanding millions of rupees from more than 200 people, threatening to confiscate their property to pay for damage during the protests.

Rights groups have decried what they say have been mass detentions and excessive force in the state, where officers have arrested more than 1,000 people. The government has said no citizen will be affected and there is no imminent plans for a register. But a video circulating on social media is likely to compound the concerns of those worried about the plight of Muslims. It shows a senior UP police officer telling a demonstrator to “go to Pakistan if you don’t want to live here”.

The official, Akhilesh Narayan Singh, told Reuters that some protesters had been shouting pro-Pakistan slogans. “It is in this situation I told them to go to Pakistan,” he said on Saturday. Officials from the opposition Congress party were set to lead protests on Saturday under the slogan “Save Constitution-Save India”. “They can punish us, throw us in jail, siphon our property but they will not be able to stop us from continuing our protest,” said Akhilesh Tomar, a student activist who has teamed up with the Congress to coordinate protests in four Muslim-dominated districts of UP.

Protests were also planned in the northeastern state of Assam, where migration has long been an emotive political issue, with protesters expecting increasing turnout in smaller towns. Meanwhile, Hindu activists associated with Modi’s party were conducting workshops in slums in an effort to ease public discontent. “We have to explain the facts to the common people who are being misled against the law by the opposition,” said Ram Naresh Tanwar, a member of a group called the Hindu Jagran Samiti, or Hindu awareness committee, in New Delhi. – Reuters

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