Six killed in India as anti-citizenship law protests rumble on
Deadly protests jolt northern India amid widespread anger over legislation deemed discriminatory by critics.
New Delhi, India – At least six people protesting against a new citizenship law have been killed in clashes in various parts of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, according to police.
Shrish Chand, spokesperson of Uttar Pradesh police, said two protesters were killed on Friday in Bijnor, with the rest of the deaths occurring in Meerut, Kanpur, Sambhal and Firozabad.
“Cause of death will be cleared after post-mortem,” Chand told Al Jazeera.
The news came as deadly protests against the recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) continue to rage across the country.
The controversial act is an amendment to a 1955 piece of legislation granting citizenship to “persecuted” minorities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan – but excludes Muslims.
India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government says the legislation protects people fleeing religious persecution, but opponents criticise it as being anti-Muslim and violating the spirit of the country’s secular constitution.
The public anger over CAA continues to build across India, with thousands of people marching daily demanding the law be revoked.
On Thursday, at least three people were killed in the violence: Two people died from injuries sustained during a protest in the city of Mangalore, in the southern state of Karnataka, while another person died from firearm injuries during a protest in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh,
On Friday, demonstrations erupted across 13 districts of Uttar Pradesh, with thousands defying orders banning gatherings in India’s most populous state.
As the protests turned violent, police at various parts of the state charged demonstrators with batons and used tear gas to try and control the situation.
A curfew meanwhile was imposed in parts of central India’s Madhya Pradesh on Friday.
‘CAA is anti-Muslim’
India’s capital, New Delhi, also witnessed massive demonstrations against the law. The protesters are also demanding an investigation into Sunday’s violence in the federally run Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) university, where police barged into the campus, beat up students and allegedly vandalised university property.
Soon after the Friday afternoon prayers, thousands of protesters rallied from the historic Jama Masjid in Old Delhi to the nearby Delhi Gate carrying national flags and placards and shouting anti-CAA and anti-government slogans.
“We will fight this anti-Muslim law tooth and nail,” Anwar Siddiqui, 65, a protester told Al Jazeera. “We will rather die but will not back down this time. This government has to revoke its decision at any cost.”
Hundreds of police and Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel were deployed at Delhi Gate to stop the demonstrators from proceeding further, while several metro stations were shut down.
Initially peacefully, the protest turned violent with protesters setting a vehicle on fire and police using water cannon to disperse them
“CAA is anti-Muslim and it has to go,” said Feroz Khan, a protester. “Our protests will continue ’til the act is not struck down.”
“This is a revolt against the government, against its anti-Muslim act,” Faisal Ahmad, another protester told Al Jazeera.
“We are not against the citizenship to any illegal immigrants but we are against the exclusion of Muslims,” he said. “CAA plus BJP’s proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) targets only one community – and that is Muslims.”
The NRC is a Supreme Court-monitored bureaucratic citizenship exercise, which was recently held in Assam state, and which the BJP now plans to extend to the entire country.
Protesters say both moves are part of BJP’s agenda to marginalise the country’s 200 million Muslims.
BJP policies draw ire
Many opposition parties, students, civil society members and activists across India have opposed the CAA and criticised the government for bringing forward the legislation.
“The CAA is discriminatory and the proposed NRC will particularly hurt the poor and vulnerable,” Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the opposition Congress Party, said on Friday in a video statement.
“In a democracy, people have the right to raise their voice against wrong decisions and policies of the government and register their concerns. Equally, it is the duty of the government to listen to the citizens and address their concerns,” she added.
“The BJP government has shown utter disregard for people’s voices and chosen to use brute force to suppress dissent. This is unacceptable in a democracy.”
Amid the furore over the citizenship act that has spread across the country, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs said on Friday that no Indian citizen will be asked to prove citizenship by showing documents such as birth certificates of parents or grandparents dating back to a period before 1971.
“Citizenship of India may be proved by giving any document relating to date of birth or place of birth or both. Such a list is likely to include a lot of common documents to ensure that no Indian citizen is unduly harassed or put to inconvenience,” a ministry spokesperson said in a post on Twitter.