NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday postponed hearing pleas challenging the constitutionality of a new citizenship law that has sparked opposition and massive protests across the country.
The court said it would consider the pleas on Jan. 22.
Protests and widespread condemnation have been growing against the Citizenship Amendment Act, with demonstrations erupting in India over the past week.
The new 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.
Critics say the new law is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government’s agenda to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims, and that it violates the spirit of the country’s secular constitution. Modi has defended it, ironically, as a “humanitarian gesture.”
The law’s passage last week followed a contentious process in northeastern India’s Assam state intended to eject people who entered the country illegally and are not on the National Register of Citizens, or NRC. Nearly 2 million people in Assam were excluded from the list, about half Hindu and half Muslim, and have been asked to prove their citizenship or 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 home minister, Amit Shah, has pledged to roll out the exercise nationwide.
Indian Muslims fear it’s a means by which Hindu nationalists can put them in detention or deport them from the country.
“Overthrow NRC!” protesters chanted Wednesday outside New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University.
The citizen law was passed as an unprecedented crackdown continued in Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority area, after Modi stripped the region of special constitutional protections and its statehood in August. Since then, movement and communications have been restricted in Kashmir.
Students have led a week of protests, including at predominantly Muslim Jamia Millia University, where a march on Sunday descended into chaos when demonstrators set three buses ablaze. Police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Video showed officers chasing unarmed protesters and beating them with sticks.
Scores of students were injured.
The police response to the protests has drawn widespread condemnation. It has sparked a broader movement against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Demonstrations have erupted across the country, with thousands rallying in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states Tuesday.
On Wednesday, authorities tightened security restrictions, implementing a curfew in Assam, where protests have disrupted daily life in Gauhati, the state capital. Officials also restricted assembly in a Muslim neighborhood in New Delhi where demonstrators on Tuesday torched a police booth and several vehicles.