In Photos: Amid citizenship law outcry, Indian authorities partially ban protests

AP , Friday 20 Dec 2019

Police had banned a proposed march from India's largest mosque to an area near Parliament in the capital of New Delhi

Indians gather for a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act after Friday prayers outside Jama Masjid in New Delhi, India, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. (Photo: AP)

Police banned public gatherings in parts of the Indian capital and other cities for a third day Friday and cut internet services to try to stop growing protests against a new citizenship law that have left eight people dead and more than 4,000 others detained.

Thousands of protesters stood inside and on the steps of New Delhi's Jama Masijd, one of India's largest mosques, after Friday afternoon prayers, waving Indian flags and shouting slogans against the government and the citizenship law, which critics say threatens India's secular democracy in favor of a Hindu state.

Police had banned a proposed march from the mosque to an area near India's Parliament, and a large number of officers were waiting outside the mosque. Late Friday, police sprayed protesters with a water cannon to keep them from marching toward a monument in Central Delhi where protests have been converging, about 4 kilometers (2 1/2 miles) away.

About 10,000 people protested outside New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University, which was the site of weekend clashes in which students accused police of using excessive force that sent dozens to hospitals. They collected signatures for a petition demanding the new law be scrapped.

Violence erupted in several towns in northern Uttar Pradesh state where protesters set some police posts and vehicles on fire and hurled rocks at security forces. Police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse the protesters in Muzzaffarnagar, Saharanpur, Firozabad and Gorakhpur.

State police chief O.P. Singh said more than 100 people had been arrested and 3,305 had been detained since Thursday.

The protests have targeted the new citizenship law, which applies to Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally but can demonstrate religious persecution in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does not apply to Muslims.

Critics say it's a violation of the country's secular constitution and the latest effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist-led government to marginalize India's 200 million Muslims.

Modi has defended it as a humanitarian gesture.

The protests began last week in the northeastern border state of Assam, the seat of a decades-old movement against migrants, and at predominantly Muslim universities and communities in New Delhi, and now include a broad section of the Indian public nationwide.

A British colonial-era law banning the assembly of more than four people was in place in parts of the Indian capital as well as in several cities in Assam and Uttar Pradesh, where a motorized rickshaw driver was fatally shot during a protest in Lucknow.

Eight deaths have been reported, including five in Assam and two in southern Karnataka state.

Authorities erected roadblocks and turned areas around mosques in New Delhi, Lucknow and other Muslim-dominated areas into security fortresses to prevent widespread demonstrations after Friday prayers.

Police temporarily held 1,200 protesters in New Delhi on Thursday and hundreds of others were detained in other cities after they defied bans on assembly. Most protesters were released later in the day.

While some see the citizenship law as a slight against Muslims, others, including some Hindu conservatives in Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, fear it will encourage immigration to India, where public services for its 1.3 billion people are already highly strained.

"In effect, some of the BJP's own rank and file, the very people the party has sought to help, have come out against the law," said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the U.S.-based Wilson Center.

Kugelman said that the government's failure to respond to the protests, except to accuse political opponents of orchestrating them, is "likely to galvanize the protesters even more."

The protests come amid an ongoing crackdown in Muslim-majority Kashmir, the restive Himalayan region stripped of its semi-autonomous status and demoted from a state into a federal territory last summer.

They also follow a contentious process in Assam meant to weed out foreigners living in the country illegally. Nearly 2 million people were excluded from an official list of citizens, about half Hindu and half Muslim, and have been asked to prove their citizenship or else be considered foreign.

India is also building a detention center for some of the tens of thousands of people the courts are expected to ultimately determine have entered illegally. Modi's interior minister, Amit Shah, has pledged to roll out the process nationwide.

Critics say the process is a thinly veiled plot to deport millions of Muslims.

Students and demonstrators hold placards and shout slogans during a protest against India's new citizenship law in Chennai on December 20, 2019.(AFP)

Indian students
Indian students shout slogans and holds a placard during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Bangalore, India, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. (Photo: AP)

Police stand
Police stand as a car burns after being set on fire during demonstrations against India (Photo: AFP)

Indians participate
Indians participate in a torch light procession to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Gauhati, India, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. (Photo: AP)

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