NEW DELHI (AP) — Police arrested hundreds of protesters in some of India’s biggest cities Thursday as they defied a ban on assembly imposed to stop nationwide demonstrations against a new citizenship law targeted at Muslims.
Protesters say Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s law threatens the country’s secular democracy.
Dozens of demonstrations were held around the country as opposition widened to the law, which excludes Muslims. The legislation sparked anger at what many see as the Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s push to bring India closer to a Hindu state.
Historian Ramchandra Guha, a biographer of independence leader Mohandas Gandhi, was among those detained in Bangalore, the capital of southern Karnataka state. The state government banned groups of more than four people gathering.
Reached by telephone, Guha said he was in a bus with other detainees and did not know where the police were taking them.
In New Delhi, Yogendra Yadav, chief of the Swaraj India party, was among those arrested as protesters demonstrated at New Delhi’s iconic Red Fort and its historic district.
Officials said more than 100 people were detained at the fort.
The protesters were loaded into buses and other vehicles. The main roads leading to the fort were blocked and police did not let pedestrians go to nearby temples or shopping areas.
Internet and phone services were blocked around the fort and in other parts of New Delhi, a tactic Indian authorities use in other parts of the country, such as Kashmir, to try to stop people from organizing protests. The measure, however, is rarely used in the capital.
The new citizenship law applies to Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India without documents but can demonstrate religious persecution in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does not apply to Muslims.
Modi’s law aims to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims, its critics say. Modi defends it, apparently without irony, as a “humanitarian gesture.”
The law’s enactment last week followed a contentious process in northeastern Assam state intended to identify and eject people who entered illegally. Nearly 2 million people in Assam were excluded from an official list of citizens, about half Hindu and half Muslim, and will be asked to prove their citizenship or else be considered foreign.
India is building a detention center for some of the tens of thousands of people the courts are expected to determine have entered illegally. Modi’s interior minister, Amit Shah, has pledged to carry out the process nationwide.
Muslims fear it’s a way for Hindu nationalists to put them in detention or deport them.
On Wednesday, authorities tightened restrictions on protesters, expanding a blockade of the internet and a curfew in Assam.