Modi seeks to soothe India’s Muslims as protests swell

Sunday, December 22nd, 2019 19:08 |
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a rally in New Delhi on Sunday. Photo/AFP

New Delhi, Sunday

Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought Sunday to reassure India’s Muslims as a wave of deadly protests against a new citizenship law put his Hindu nationalist government under pressure like never before.

At least 25 people have died in almost two weeks of demonstrations and violence after Modi’s government passed the law criticised as anti-Muslim. More protests took place on Sunday.

Addressing party supporters in New Delhi—who shouted “Modi! Modi!” at the mention of the law—the 69-year-old said Muslims “don’t need to worry at all” provided they are genuine Indians.

“Muslims who are sons of the soil and whose ancestors are the children of mother India need not to worry,” Modi told the crowd of thousands.

Condoning violence

Accusing the main opposition Congress party of condoning the recent violence by not condemning it, Modi said opponents were “spreading rumours that all Muslims will be sent to detention camps”.

“There are no detention centres. All these stories about detention centres are lies, lies and lies,” he said.

Modi also said there had been “no discussion” about a nationwide “register of citizens”, which many Muslims in India fear is targeted mainly at them.

Home Minister Amit Shah, Modi’s close ally, has said repeatedly that such an exercise will take place, including in parliament aimed at removing all “infiltrators” from India.

This year, such a register in Assam state left off 1.9 million people unable to prove they or their forebears were there before 1971. They now face possible statelessness.

Assam has six functional detention centres holding more than 1,000 people in the northeastern state, and plans another 11.

The Home Ministry in June issued a “2019 Model Detention Manual” to states, asking them to set up camps in major entry points.

The demonstrations have been largely peaceful but protesters have also hurled rocks and torched vehicles, while heavy-handed police tactics including the storming of a Delhi university a week ago have fuelled anger.

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered late Saturday in the southern city of Hyderabad. Other protests took place on Sunday, including in Jaipur and Mumbai. Another in favour of the law was held in Bangalore.

The law gives religious minority members—Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists—from three neighbouring Islamic countries an easier path to citizenship, but not if they are Muslim.

Islamic groups, the opposition and others at home and abroad fear this forms part of Modi’s aim to marginalise India’s 200 million Muslims and remould the country as a Hindu nation, something he denies.

Authorities have imposed emergency laws, blocked internet access—a common tactic in India—and shut down shops in sensitive areas across the country in an attempt to contain the unrest. -AFP

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