Defiant Indians protest nationwide against citizenship law

NEW DELHI (AFP) – Indians defied bans on assembly yesterday in cities nationwide as anger swells against a citizenship law seen as discriminatory against religious minorities, following days of protests, clashes and riots that have left six dead.

Two major Indian telecom firms also said yesterday that they have cut mobile services in parts of New Delhi on government orders.

The new law eases citizenship rules for people fleeing persecution from three neighbouring countries, but excludes certain religious groups, stoking accusations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to reshape India and creating unease abroad.

Following days of protests that have seen four people shot dead, dozens injured, hundreds arrested and vehicles torched, authorities have banned gatherings in areas that together are home to hundreds of millions of people.

They included Uttar Pradesh state, areas of the northeast and parts of Bihar, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai, all of which have seen protests in recent days, and in the case of the capital violence.

A protester dressed as Indian independence icon Mahatma Gandhi shouts slogans during a demonstration held against India’s new citizenship law in spite of a curfew in Bangalore. PHOTO: AFP

“People should seek permission to assemble at places where Section 144 is not imposed. No one will be allowed to gather elsewhere,” Delhi Police Spokesman M S Randhawa told AFP.

Fourteen Delhi metro stations were shut including one near police headquarters, besieged by protestors earlier this week, as some roads into the megacity were blocked, causing immense traffic jams.

Vodafone and Airtel announced they had cut services on mobiles in some parts of the city and mobile operator Jio is reported to have followed suit.

India is already the world leader in cutting the Internet, activists said, and access has been restricted in parts of the northeast and in Uttar Pradesh.

Demonstrators yesterday ignored the bans on assembly including in Delhi and Hyderabad where television pictures showed police dragging and carrying demonstrators away as they brandished placards and chanted slogans. One protestor, Kawalpreet Kaur, who according to her Twitter profile is the Delhi President of All India Student’s Association, posted that police had filled 14 buses with detainees at the Red Fort landmark.

“But more and more people are pouring in, too many to be detained,” she added.

In Bangalore those detained included internationally renowned historian Ramachandra Guha while in the northern state of Bihar protestors blocked several railway stations and national highways.

Seventeen left-wing parties in the eastern state of West Bengal, long a hotbed of political violence, were due to rally in Kolkata later.