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Indian citizenship law: Thousands protest peacefully despite security clampdown


Meerut, December 28, 2019 (PPI-OT): India deployed thousands of police and shut down mobile internet services across many cities on Friday to control protests against a new citizenship law, with flashpoint Friday prayers passing largely peacefully, a British wire service reported. However, thousands of demonstrators, waving Indian flags and holding placards rejecting the new law, protested peacefully in Bengaluru city amid a heavy police presence.

“I am here because the NRC is wrong,” said Iqbal Ahmed, 42, a Muslim carpet seller and one of the protesters, referring to the register of citizens. “This is our land and I am from here… Are we not Indian?” Security was particularly tight in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 19 people have been killed since the protests began on Dec. 12, out of at least 25 deaths nationwide.

Authorities had feared that large crowds could gather after the weekly Muslim congregational prayers. Demonstrations were held after Friday prayers in the cities of Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Mumbai, but there were no major reports of violence. In Meerut, where five people were killed after violence last Friday, there were no gatherings.

Nearly 3,000 police were deployed, four times more than last week, the city’s police chief told Reuters.
The legislation makes it easier for minorities from India’s Muslim majority neighbours – Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – who settled before 2015 to get citizenship but does not make the same concessions for Muslims. Critics say the law – and plans for a national citizenship register – discriminate against Muslims and are an attack on the country’s secular constitution by the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On Friday, mobile internet services were ordered shut in many parts of Utter Pradesh, including in the provincial capital Lucknow, the state government said.

In the national capital New Delhi, police imposed an emergency law in some parts of the city, forbidding large gatherings, news channels reported. Such prohibitions have been in place in Uttar Pradesh for more than a week. Muslims, India’s second biggest community by religion, account for about 14% of its 1.3 billion people.

Some parts of the country also saw rallies in favour of the new citizenship law but were outnumbered by demonstrations and protests against the legislation. A Swedish tourist on Friday said authorities had ordered her to leave India after taking part in protests against the citizenship law, becoming the second European to be ejected over the demonstrations.

Janne-Mette Johansson, 71, said that police gave her “verbal assurances” that she could take part in peaceful demonstrations against the law that critics say discriminates against India’s Muslims. “Yesterday [Thursday], Indian immigration officials came to my hotel for questioning and I was mentally tortured. Today, they again showed up at my hotel asking me to leave the country or they will take a legal action and deport me,” she said.

The woman, who had posted photos from the demonstration in the southern state of Kerala on Facebook, added that she would leave India for Dubai on Friday evening and then fly to Sweden. Earlier this week a German studying physics in the southern Indian city of Chennai was also asked to leave after taking part in a protest and comparing the law to anti-Jewish Nazi legislation.

Photos on social media purportedly of the student, named as Jakob Lindenthal, showed him carrying a placard saying “1933-1945 We have been there”. “After the Nazi era, many people claimed not to have known anything about genocides or atrocities or stated that they were only passive,” Lindenthal told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. “Therefore I see it as a duty to learn from these lessons and not only watch when things happen that one believes to be the stepping stones to a possibly very dangerous development.”

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