Indian police accused of brutality as citizenship law protests spread
Demonstrations on at least 15 university campuses over Bill favouring non-Muslims
Demonstrators shout slogans against the Indian government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill in New Delhi on Monday. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images
Violent protests over India’s controversial new citizenship Bill, which was approved by prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government last week, have spread across the entire country.
Six people have been killed so far in the demonstrations which erupted in northeastern Assam state last Thursday, and which spread to at least 15 university campuses on Monday.
Tens of thousands of students in the federal capital New Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and other smaller towns participated in protest marches demanding that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) be rescinded.
Their anger against the Bill was aggravated by videos appearing to show police brutality on Sunday against students at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University, 200km to the east
The footage, which went viral on social media platforms, showed police kicking and assaulting students in bathrooms, in libraries and even in their hostel rooms with thick bamboo sticks.
Many clips depicted policemen chasing down students on campuses and beating them on the ground.
Several university officials said police had entered their campuses without permission and wreaked an “orgy of violence” upon their students, lasting hours.
Local authorities shut down internet and mobile telephone services in many areas to prevent demonstrators from tweeting or passing on messages, further worsening the crisis as students were unable to call for help.
Scores of victims voiced their anguish and fury on television news channels against the BJP government, reiterating their fundamental rights to protest in a democracy.
“Under the BJP India has become a fascist state with no right to dissent or question the government” one demonstrator said.
Meanwhile, NDTV news reported that at least two protestors from Jamia Millia university had been admitted to Delhi hospitals with bullet injuries, but their condition was unknown.
Student leaders said this contradicted police claims that they had not resorted to any live firing to control protesters.
Police officials, however, said they had acted with “restraint”. “Police used minimum force,” Delhi police spokesman M S Randhawa said on Monday, adding that some 30 policemen had been hurt in the clashes and those students responsible for injuring them would be “duly punished”.
“The police have assaulted the soul of India by brutally attacking the students,” said opposition Congress Party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who was participating in a satyagraha, or sit-in, in Delhi reminiscent of passive resistance used by Mahatma Gandhi to secure India’s independence from the British in 1947. She said the government had no right to oppose protest.
Under the contentious citizenship Bill, all non-Muslim minorities such as Hindus, Sikhs and Christians from the three neighbouring Islamic states of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan are entitled to Indian citizenship on grounds of facing prosecution.
Illegal migrants from these countries who had settled in India prior to 2015 would also be naturalised.
Critics said the Bill does not make the same provisions for persecuted Muslims such as Shias and Ahmediyas in Pakistan and Hazaras in Afghanistan, and is communal in its scope.
The BJP government, however, denies any bias and says the Bill does not apply to Muslims since they are not religious minorities in these three countries.
‘1,000 per cent correct’
Mr Modi has appealed for calm, but few demonstrating students are taking notice as the PM also declared at a state election rally on Sunday that his government’s decision to invoke the citizenship Bill was “1,000 per cent correct” and that it would not be rolled back.
He tweeted that no Indian had anything to worry about over the Bill. “It is only for those who have faced years of persecution outside and have no other place to go except India,” he added.
A majority of Assam’s 31 million people disagree, as they anticipate being swamped by millions of Hindus from neighbouring Bangladesh who they fear will not only take jobs and land, but also overwhelm their culture and identity.
In the meantime, India is bracing itself for the impending National Register of Citizens, which the BJP administration has promised to launch across the country to determine every Indian’s nationality based on documents that tens of millions do not possess.