NEW DELHI (AP) – Thousands of university students flooded the streets of India’s capital, while a southern state government led a march and demonstrators held a silent protest in the northeast yesterday to protest a new law giving citizenship to those who entered India illegally to flee religious persecution in several neighbouring countries.
The protests in New Delhi followed a night of violent clashes between police and demonstrators at Jamia Millia Islamia University.
Protesters who student organisers said were not students set three buses on fire and police stormed the university library, firing tear gas at students crouched under desks.Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said the Citizenship Amendment Bill, (CAB) which was approved by Parliament last week, will make India a safe haven for Hindus and other religious minorities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But critics said the legislation, which for the first time conditions Indian citizenship on religion, violates the secular constitution of the world’s largest democracy.
The law’s passage has triggered protests across India, but Assam, the centre of a decades-old movement against illegal immigrants, has seen the highest toll.
Assam police officials said officers have fatally shot five protesters in the state capital of Gauhati while attempting to restore order to a city that has been engulfed in demonstrations since last week.
About 1,500 people have been arrested for violence including arson and vandalism, police spokesman GP Singh said, adding that authorities were reviewing surveillance videos and anticipated making more arrests. Schools remain closed through December 22, the government has blocked internet service statewide and a curfew has been imposed from 9pm to 6am.
Foreign journalists are not permitted to travel to India’s northeastern region, including Assam, without a permit.
Municipal workers were clearing the city of burnt tyres and other debris yesterday and some businesses had reopened as the All Assam Students Union, which has spearheaded Assam’s anti-immigration movement for decades, led a silent protest. The group and its followers fear an influx of migrants will dilute native Assamese culture and political sway.
The citizenship law follows a contentious citizenship registry process in Assam intended to weed out people who immigrated illegally. Home Minister Amit Shah has pledged to roll it out nationwide, promising to rid India of “infiltrators.”
Nearly two million people in Assam were excluded from the list and have been asked to prove their citizenship or else be considered foreign.