Police accused of brutality as death toll during protests against citizenship law reaches 19 in Uttar Pradesh state.
Officials in India’s Uttar Pradesh state, including its hardline chief minister, have made controversial remarks while rejecting accusations that police are using “deadly force” against mostly Muslim protesters.
The state, India’s most populous with nearly 20 percent of them Muslims, saw 19 of the 27 deaths so far in nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which critics see as anti-Muslim.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who belongs to Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), rebuffed accusations from Muslims and rights groups of police abuses, crediting his tough stance with restoring calm to the streets.
“Every rioter is shocked. Every troublemaker is astonished. Looking at the strictness of the Yogi government, everyone is silent,” one of Adityanath’s verified official accounts on Twitter said late on Friday.
“Do whatever you want to, but the damages will be paid by those who cause damages,” it added, repeating the warning his government had made earlier in the week.
“#TheGreat_CMYogi,” read the hashtag with the tweet, which came hours before a video appeared in which a senior Uttar Pradesh police officer is seen telling a group of Muslims: “Go to Pakistan.”
The video circulating on social media is likely to compound the concerns of those worried about the plight of Muslims, who accuse the police of killing peaceful demonstrators, raiding and ransacking homes, and beating hundreds of people, even children, since protests against the CAA began earlier this month.
The video shows Akhilesh Narayan Singh, a police officer in Meerut district where five Muslims have been killed, telling a group of men in a Muslim neighbourhood to “go to Pakistan if you don’t want to live here”.
“You eat here but sing praises of another place… This lane is now familiar to me. And once I remember, I can even reach your grandmother,” Singh says in the video. “Every man from every house will be arrested.”
“GO TO PAKISTAN”
Watch how UP Police speaks the language of trolls.
Meerut SP Akhilesh N Singh can be seen here Speaking to protesters.
— Zeba Warsi (@Zebaism) December 28, 2019
Singh told Reuters News Agency that some protesters were shouting pro-Pakistan slogans. “It is in this situation I told them to go to Pakistan,” he said on Saturday.
The “Go to Pakistan” statement is often posted on social media by the supporters of the right-wing BJP in response to posts critical of the ruling party.
Uttar Pradesh has seen the most violent turmoil over Modi’s citizenship law, which activists say is discriminatory towards Muslims, who make up some 14 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population.
The clashes in the state appear to have eased over the past week, however, although small-scale demonstrations are still taking place.
Earlier this week, Adityanath’s government said it was demanding millions of rupees from more than 200 people, threatening to confiscate their property to pay for damage caused during the protests.
Rights groups have decried what they say have been mass detentions and excessive force in the state, where officers have arrested more than 1,000 people.
Activists have pointed out that while protests against the citizenship law have happened across the country, protesters have been killed only in states governed by the BJP.
“There is terror over there [Uttar Pradesh] … people in Muslim colonies are staying up all night to guard their houses. They are terrified of a police raid or a communal attack,” Kavita Krishnan, a member of a fact-finding team that visited the state, told reporters.
The citizenship legislation makes it easier for members of religious minorities from India’s Muslim-majority neighbours – Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – who settled in India before 2015 to get citizenship but does not offer the same concession to Muslims.
Critics say the law – and plans for a National Register of Citizens (NRC) – discriminate against Muslims and are an attack on the secular constitution by Modi’s government.
While the government says no citizen will be affected and there are no imminent plans for a register, conflicting statements by Modi and his closest aide, Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah, have added to confusion and fear.
Officials from the opposition Congress party held a protest in Uttar Pradesh’s main city of Lucknow on Saturday under the slogan, “Save Constitution-Save India”.
“They can punish us, throw us in jail, siphon our property but they will not be able to stop us from continuing our protest,” said Akhilesh Tomar, a student activist who has teamed up with Congress to coordinate protests in four Muslim-majority districts of the state.
Protests were also planned in the northeastern state of Assam, where migration has long been an emotive political issue, with protesters expecting increasing turnout in smaller towns.
Meanwhile, Hindu activists associated with Modi’s party were conducting workshops in slums in an effort to ease public discontent.
“We have to explain the facts to the common people who are being misled against the law by the opposition,” said Ram Naresh Tanwar, a member of a group called the Hindu Jagran Samiti, or Hindu Reawakening Committee, in the capital New Delhi.