Student protests against India’s citizenship law spread after clashes on campuses | CBC News
Protests over a new citizenship law based on religion spread to student campuses across India on Monday as critics said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was pushing a partisan agenda in conflict with India’s founding as a secular republic.
Students pelted stones at police who locked up the gates of a college in the northern city of Lucknow to prevent them from taking to the streets. About two dozen students at another college in the city sneaked out to protest.
Anger with Modi’s Hindu nationalist government was further fuelled by allegations of police brutality at Jamia Millia Islamia university on Sunday, when officers entered the campus in the capital New Delhi and fired tear gas to break up a protest. At least 100 people were injured in the clashes there.
Under the law passed by parliament last week, religious minorities such as Hindus and Christians from neighbouring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who have settled in India prior to 2015 will have a path to Indian citizenship on grounds they faced persecution in those countries.
Critics say the law, which does not make the same provision for Muslims, weakens India’s secular foundations.
University head demands investigation
Modi called for calm, saying the protests were deeply distressing.
“Debate, discussion and dissent are essential parts of democracy, but never has damage to public property and disturbance of normal life been a part of our ethos,” he said in a tweet.
Cars were attacked in Delhi on Sunday and public buses set on fire.
The head of Jamia Millia demanded an investigation into how police were allowed to enter the campus. “It is not expected of the police to enter the university and beat up students,” Najma Akhtar told a news conference.
Meanwhile, students said police fired tear gas and windows were broken in the library. They ducked under desks and switched off the lights as advised by teachers. Police said they acted with restraint.
There were similar scenes at the Aligarh Muslim University in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where police also clashed with protesters on the campus.
Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Congress party, said the Modi government was dividing Indian society through the citizenship law and a plan to launch a national citizenship register.
“The best defence against these dirty weapons is peaceful, non-violent Satyagraha,” he said in a tweet referring to the strategy of passive political resistance advocated by independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.
Rahul Gandhi’s sister Priyanka Gandhi sat down for a protest at the India Gate war memorial in Delhi against the police crackdown on student campuses.
Students at Delhi University said right-wing student groups linked to Modi’s party were trying to intimidate them for protesting against the citizenship law.
Raniya Zulaikha, a student of political science at Ramjas College, said there were groups of students who entered the campus saying anyone who was protesting should leave the country, or go to Pakistan.
Sanija Mithran, another student of the college, said girls who were wearing the hijab were targeted. “They were selecting the girls with hijab and they were pulling their hijab.”
Hundreds of activists gathered outside the New Delhi police headquarters on Sunday night to protest against alleged police brutality and the detention of students. Protests were also held in Mumbai’s Indian Institute of Technology and Tata Institute of Social Sciences overnight.
The most violent protests during the past few days took place in the northeastern state of Assam, where mobs torched buildings and train stations, angry the law would help thousands of immigrants from Bangladesh become lawful citizens. At least two people were killed in the violent clashes with police.
‘The country is burning’
Students said they also stood in solidarity with fellow student in Delhi who clashed with police on Sunday.
“The country is burning, the government has made a mockery of the constitution,” said D. Raja, a general secretary of the Communist Party of India.
Some Bollywood celebrities, like actress Konkona Sen Sharma and directors Mahesh Bhatt and Anubhav Sinha, also criticized the police action on Twitter, and called on others to speak up.
“We are with the students! Shame on you @DelhiPolice,” Sen Sharma tweeted.
Anger with Modi’s Hindu nationalist government over the citizenship act has erupted for two reasons. In Assam, and other northeastern states bordering Bangladesh, people are upset over the impact that a large influx of migrants is having on society, and the pressure it places on their land.
In the capital New Delhi and other urban centres, opposition political activists and student leaders are angry over a law that they say erodes India’s secular foundations and discriminates against Muslims.
Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party denies any religious bias but says it is opposed to the appeasement of one community. It says the new law is meant to help minority groups facing persecution in the three nearby Muslim countries.
Modi has said the law has been passed by parliament and there is no going back on it. He told a rally on Sunday the decision was “1,000 per cent correct.”