Demonstrations were held across India on Thursday against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, with police and protestors clashing in multiple places. At least two deaths were reported from Mangaluru in Karnataka, and one from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh.
However, Uttar Pradesh Director General of Police OP Singh claimed it was unlikely that the person who died in Lucknow died due to a bullet injury. On the other hand, Mangaluru Commissioner of Police PS Harsha said 20 police personnel had been injured in the violence, while two civilians were in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital, ANI reported. He did not confirm or deny the two deaths.
Thousands of protestors were detained across the country throughout the day. The protests, which first began at Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi on Sunday, have now spread throughout the country. There were rallies held in Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Lucknow, Ahmedabad and many other cities on Thursday.
Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Assam
Hundreds of protesters, including Samajwadi Party workers and leaders, were detained in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. The police detained over 300 protesters, including former minister Rampal Nishad and former MLAs Mohsin Khan and Vijay Bahadur Yadav.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath said “properties of those involved in damaging public assets will be seized and auctioned to compensate for losses”, PTI reported. “Those involved in violence have been identified through video, CCTV footage,” he said, adding that the government will take revenge on them. Meanwhile, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted that he had spoken to Adityanath. Singh expressed sorrow over the situation in Lucknow, and asked people to maintain peace.
More than 1,200 protestors were detained by police from around Delhi’s Red Fort area during the course of the day, PTI reported. The Delhi Police took two people into custody for distributing pamphlets with allegedly inciting content on them regarding the National Register of Citizens.
Earlier on Thursday, the Delhi Police had detained activists Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan and Harsh Mander, Left leaders D Raja, Sitaram Yechury, Nilotpal Basu and Brinda Karat, and former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid at different locations in Delhi. Historian Ramchandra Guha was detained in Bengaluru.
In Delhi, prohibitory orders were imposed at the police station areas in Kashmere Gate, Kotwali, and Lahori Gate. The Delhi Police issued an order to block communication of all kinds – voice, SMS and internet – from 9 am to 1 pm in the walled city areas of north and central districts, Mandi House, Seelampur, Jaffrabad, Mustafabad, Jamia Nagar, Shaheen Bagh and Bawana. Some telecom operators also shut down their services briefly following police advice.
The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation closed and reopened metro stations throughout the day, providing continuous updates through Twitter. However, by 6 pm, it had announced that entry and exit gates of all metro stations were open.
Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced in the evening that mobile internet services will be restored in the state on Friday. The Gauhati High Court had earlier in the day directed that they be restored by 5 pm on Thursday itself. A group of BJP MLAs had earlier in the day called on Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to allay the fears and concerns of protestors, PTI reported.
Amit Shah holds meeting on security
In the evening, Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a meeting to review the security situation in the country. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy and Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla attended the meeting.
Before the meeting, Reddy claimed that “everything is peaceful” in the country except in Lucknow where there have been violent protests, ANI reported. He also asked political parties not to instigate people in the name of religion. Meanwhile, the government prepared a document to answer frequently asked questions on the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Despite the massive protests, Bharatiya Janata Party Working President Jagat Prakash Nadda said that both the act and the National Register of Citizens will be implemented throughout the country. Nadda made the remarks after meeting Sikh refugees from Afghanistan in Delhi.
However, most key Union ministers maintained silence over the protests.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by Parliament on December 11, provides citizenship to persecuted minorities of six religions – excluding Islam – from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It has been decried as anti-Muslim, and protestors from North Eastern states have alleged that the Act will erode their ethnic identities.
Opposition’s attacks on government
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee dared the BJP to conduct a United Nations-monitored referendum on the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. The Trinamool Congress chief made the remark at a rally at Kolkata’s Rani Rashmoni Avenue. She said the mass voting would enable an assessment of how many people were in favour or against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
The Congress accused the government of muzzling the voice of people through draconian measures like shutting of internet and misusing prohibitory orders, and says “undeclared emergency” has been imposed in the country, PTI reports. “This is not BJP rule, it is undeclared emergency imposed in the country, which is being run in the name of normalcy,” Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan sought the help of Amit Shah to prevent attacks by certain groups on students from the state, who had been agitating against the Citizenship Amendment Act, PTI reported.
Amnesty International, United States criticise India
Human rights organisation Amnesty International India criticised the crackdown on people protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Amnesty India’s Executive Director Avinash Kumar said the Citizenship Act was a “bigoted law” that legitimises discrimination on the basis of religion.
“The right to freedom of peaceful assembly does not only facilitate freedom of expression, but also allows public debate,” he said. “However, rather than respecting, protecting and promoting this right, the Central government in Delhi and various state governments are clamping down on protestors by using repressive laws.”
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his country was “consistent” in how it responds to the treatment of minorities worldwide, and would respond the same way for India.
“We care deeply and always will about protecting minorities, protecting religious rights everywhere,” Pompeo said in the presence of India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in Washington. “We honour Indian democracy as they have a robust debate inside of India on the issue that you raised [amendments to the Citizenship Act], and the United States will be consistent in the way that we respond to these issues, not only in India but all across the world.”