NEW DELHI, India (AFP) — Fresh protests rocked India on Monday as anger grew over anti-Muslim citizenship legislation, after six people died in the northeast and up to 200 were injured in New Delhi.
The law fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslims from three neighboring countries. Critics say it is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda to marginalize the 200-million strong Islamic minority.
Modi on Monday denied this, tweeting that the new law “does not affect any citizen of India of any religion,” while accusing “vested interest groups” of stoking the “deeply distressing” unrest.
Rahul Gandhi, former opposition Congress chief, tweeted that the law and a proposed nationwide register of citizens, also seen as anti-Muslim, were “weapons of mass polarization unleashed by fascists.”
The United Nations 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 also expressed unease.
On Monday fresh protests roiled, among other cities, 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.
The northeast, where even allowing non-Muslims citizenship is opposed by many locals and which in recent days has been the epicenter of protests with six people dead, also saw fresh demonstrations.
In the east in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal, thousands took part in a march led by state premier Mamata Banerjee, a firebrand opponent of Modi. Protestors set fire to tires on train lines.
Students gathered again at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university on Monday, a day after police with batons fired tear gas and charged protesting students before storming the building.
The university’s Vice Chancellor Najma Akhtar said Monday that 200 people were injured, but police put the number at 39 students hurt with 30 officers also injured, one of them critically.
Police spokesman M.S. Randhawa said that four buses, 100 private vehicles and 10 police bikes were damaged, and that officers exercised “maximum restraint, minimum force” despite being “provoked.”
He denied media reports that police opened fire.
“I want to make it clear: Nobody is scared,” student Bhumika Saraswati told Agence France-Presses. “Like people in Hong Kong are protesting, in Chile they are protesting, and they are not scared.”
Fellow student Shree Kumar said the citizenship law was “against the Muslims. It’s against the ethos of India. It’s against the secular ideas of India.”
Authorities in Uttar Pradesh state cut internet access in some parts after clashes between demonstrators and police in Aligarh on Sunday that saw 21 people arrested, authorities said.
Also Sunday, Modi said the citizenship law is “1,000% correct” and that Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are not covered because they have no need of India’s protection.
Modi blamed the Congress Party and its allies of “stoking fire,” saying those creating violence “can be identified by their clothes” student Bhumika Saraswati told AFP, a comment interpreted as referring to Muslims.
The new law is being challenged in the Supreme Court by rights groups and a Muslim political party, who say it violates the constitution and India’s cherished secular traditions.
Ashok Swain, a professor at Sweden’s Uppsala University said that the scale of the protests have caught Modi’s government 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 said.
© Agence France-Presse