Huge gatherings in decades over India`s new controversial law on citizenship

wilayattimes (India)

New Delhi:More than 1,500 protesters have been arrested across India in the past 10 days as protests continue to erupt across the country over a controversial citizenship law, officials say.

Additionally, some 4,000 people have been detained and then released.

At least 19 people have been killed in clashes between police and protesters since the Indian Parliament passed the law on December 11.

The law aims to grant citizenship to minorities of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, Jain and Parsi faiths from Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, deemed as suffering persecution there.

Protests over a controversial new federal citizenship law on minorities in India are creating chaos across several Indian cities, but what will it mean for the future of the country?

Critics of the law say it discriminates against Muslims and threatens India’s secular ethos because it makes religion a criteria for citizenship.

Hundreds of protesters and police have been injured in the protests, the strongest show of dissent against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Government since he was first elected in 2014.

Demonstrations continued on Saturday despite curfews and tough measures aimed at shutting down the protests.

Most arrests were in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, where more than 100 people have been arrested and 3,305 detained since Thursday, said state police chief OP Singh.

Critics of Mr Modi’s law have slammed it as a violation of the country’s secular constitution and label it the latest effort by Mr Modi’s Government to marginalise India’s 200 million Muslims.

Mr Modi has defended the law as a humanitarian gesture.

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.

They waved Indian flags and shouted slogans against the Government and the citizenship law, which opponents contend threatens India’s secular democracy in favour of a Hindu state.

Police banned a proposed march from the mosque to an area near Parliament and sprayed protesters with water cannon blasts to prevent them from meeting up with more demonstrators about 4 kilometres away in central Delhi.

Another 10,000 demonstrators outside Jamia Millia Islamia University collected signatures for a petition demanding the new citizenship law be scrapped.

The university was the site of clashes in which students accused police of using excessive force last weekend.

The protests began last week in the north-eastern border state of Assam, the seat of a decades-old movement against migrants, and at predominantly Muslim universities and communities in New Delhi.

But they have since grown to include a broad section of the Indian public.

A British colonial-era law banning the assembly of more than four people was in place in parts of the capital as well as in several cities in Assam and Uttar Pradesh.

Fears of an increase in immigration also are fuelling the protests, and the law’s opponents include some Hindu conservatives in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, who worry about more migrants in a country where public services for its 1.3 billion people are already strained.

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 centre for some of the tens of thousands of people the courts are expected to ultimately determine have entered illegally.

Mr Modi’s interior minister, Amit Shah, has pledged to roll out the process nationwide.

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