PM Modi appeals for calm as anti-Muslim law protests rage

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019 12:00 |
Demonstrators protest against the Indian government’s new citizenship law in Chennai, yesterday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for calm. Photo/Photo/AFP

New Delhi, Monday

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appealed for calm as violent protests against a new law on illegal migrants entered a fifth day.

Large demonstrations are taking place in the capital Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Kolkata (formerly Calcutta).

Monday’s protests came a day after clashes between police and protesters in Delhi left at least 50 injured. Protesters are angry at a law entitling citizenship to some non-Muslim migrants from three Muslim-majority countries.

But people are divided on why they have taken to the streets. Some critics say the law is anti-Muslim, while others—especially in border regions— fear large-scale migration.

The protests, which have left six people dead, began in the north-eastern state of Assam on Thursday, before spreading to other parts of northern and eastern India.

But as students resumed their protests on Monday, Modi attempted to calm tensions in a series of tweets.

“No Indian has anything to worry regarding this act. This act is only for those who have faced years of persecution outside and have no other place to go except India,” the PM wrote. “This is the time to maintain peace, unity and brotherhood.”

Authorities have tried to curb the protests by shutting down internet services, so it is unclear how many people in affected areas have seen his tweets.

Several lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to intervene, pointing out that officers had allegedly assaulted students in bathrooms, but the chief justice said that the court would not take any action until the protests ceased.

Travel warnings

Delhi police spokesman Randhawa denied the allegations, saying his officers “exercised maximum restraint”.

The UK, US and Canada have issued travel warnings for people visiting India’s north-east, telling their citizens to “exercise caution” if travelling to the region.

The law allows non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, who entered India illegally, to become citizens.

Muslims, who make up 14 per cent of India’s population, are especially worried as the law follows the revocation of the special status of the Muslim-majority Kashmir.

Protests resumed at the city’s prestigious Jamia Millia Islamia university on Monday morning, despite violent clashes on Sunday which resulted in 35 students being detained.

A march on Sunday ended with at least three buses and several motorbikes being torched, roads blocked and stones being thrown at officers, who responded with tear gas.

Hundreds of people also protested in other parts of the city, including in Jawaharlal Nehru University and outside the city’s police headquarters.

India’s Chief Justice Sharad Bobde said that the Supreme Court will intervene only if “the atmosphere settles down”, adding that student protesters could not “take the law into their own hands”. “The court can’t do anything right now. Let the riots stop,” he said. -BBC

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