Six dead in India as protests spread over ‘anti-Muslim’ law
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Six dead in India as protests spread over ‘anti-Muslim’ law

Passage of law sparked angry scenes in both houses of parliament, with one lawmaker likening it to anti-Jewish legislation by the Nazis in 1930s Germany

A man walks on a street as a bus is on fire following a demonstration against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in New Delhi on December 15, 2019. (STR / AFP)
A man walks on a street as a bus is on fire following a demonstration against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in New Delhi on December 15, 2019. (STR / AFP)

GUWAHATI, India (AFP) — Angry protesters in northeast India vowed Sunday to keep demonstrating against a contentious citizenship law as the death toll from bloody clashes sparked by the bill rose to six.

Tension remained high at the epicenter of the unrest in Assam state’s biggest city, Guwahati, with troops patrolling the streets.

In Assam, four people died after being shot by police, while another was killed when a shop he was sleeping in was set on fire and a sixth after he was beaten up during a protest, officials said.

Some 5,000 people took part in a fresh demonstration Sunday in Guwahati, with hundreds of police watching as they sang, chanted and carried banners with the words “Long live Assam”.

Police with batons and firing tear gas clashed with hundreds of students in New Delhi, television pictures showed, as Muslim protesters set fire to placards in Amritsar and other rallies were held in Kolkata, Kerala and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat.

The protests in Guwahati in the northeast prompted Modi and Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe to postpone a summit in the area slated for Sunday.

On Friday, the UN human rights office in Geneva called on India “to respect the right to peaceful assembly, and to abide by international norms and standards on the use of force when responding to protests.”

In Guwahati, the main city in Assam state, rioters on Thursday left a trail of destruction, torching vehicles, blocking roads with bonfires and hurling stones at thousands of riot police who were backed up by the military.

Demonstrators take part in a musical concert to protest against the Indian government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Guwahati on December 15, 2019. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP)

With the internet suspended in many areas of the city, several thousand people gathered for a sit-in protest on Friday and no major incident was reported. Many cash machines had no money, shops were shuttered and petrol stations closed.

Authorities in Meghalaya, another north-eastern state, cut off mobile internet and imposed a curfew in parts of the capital Shillong. Around 20 people were hurt in clashes there on Friday, reports said.

“They can’t settle anyone in our motherland. This is unacceptable. We will die but not allow outsiders to settle here,” protester Manav Das told AFP on Friday in Guwahati.

“We will defeat the government with the force of the people and the government will be forced to revoke the law,” said local activist Samujal Battacharya.

Hindu agenda

The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) — approved this week — allows for the fast-tracking of applications from religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, but not Muslims.

For Islamic groups, the opposition and rights organisations, it is part of Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims.

Students shout slogans and pelt stones outside the Jamia Millia Islamia University during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, in New Delhi, India, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (AP Photo)

Modi denies this and says that Muslims from the three countries are not covered by the legislation because they have no need of India’s protection.

The US State Department on Thursday urged India to “protect the rights of its religious minorities”, according to Bloomberg.

The UN human rights office said it was concerned the law “would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India’s constitution”.

But many in the northeast object for different reasons, fearing that immigrants from Bangladesh — many of them Hindus — will become citizens, taking jobs and diluting the area’s cultural identity.

The passage of the law sparked angry scenes in both houses of parliament this week, with one lawmaker likening it to anti-Jewish legislation by the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

The chief ministers of several Indian states — West Bengal, Punjab, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — have said they will not implement the law.

West Bengal’s firebrand leader Mamata Banerjee, who has called for major protests in state capital Kolkata on Monday, said Modi wanted to “divide the nation”.

“It is completely unconstitutional and goes against the idea of India,” Aditya Mukherjee, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told the NDTV channel.

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