LUCKNOW: Police clash with protesters during demonstrations against the citizenship law on Thursday.—AFP
LUCKNOW: Police clash with protesters during demonstrations against the citizenship law on Thursday.—AFP

NEW DELHI: Three persons were killed in police firing on Thursday and several were injured as protests swept at least 10 states against India’s new law on citizenship. Permission for protests was denied in almost all states but the protesters defied police and a lockdown across Uttar Pradesh, parts of Delhi, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

In Mangaluru, where curfew has been declared, two persons died in police firing. In Lucknow, one person died and three others were injured.

In Delhi, hundreds including activists and opposition leaders were temporarily taken into custody. The Delhi-Haryana border was sealed for eight hours, hitting road traffic and delaying flights.

Rattled by continuing nationwide protests against the controversial law for citizenship, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah has summoned a high-level meeting to assess the response.

Upping the clamour to revoke the law, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in her seventh major public rally, asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to test his measures with a UN-sponsored referendum. Such a call was hitherto confined to the status of occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

Considered the sword arm of Mr Modi’s rightwing government, Mr Shah has insisted that his resolve to implement the twin-measures of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was rock solid. But ceaseless weeklong protests are testing that resolve.

The week has seen some of the most brutal police barbarity on peaceful demonstrators since independence, analysts say. A student in Aligarh Muslim University had his arm amputated after being hit by police shrapnel while two others are being treated for serious injuries.

New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university has witnessed an equally vicious assault by the heavily-armed police, who come directly under Mr Shah’s command.

The minister will be briefed on how thousands hit the streets across at least 10 states, even defying lockdown across Uttar Pradesh, parts of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi, in protest against the law on citizenship.

In pictures: Protests persist against India's new citizenship bill

In the national capital, nearly 1,200 protesters were temporarily taken into custody as they defied a law banning the gathering of more than four persons. Most of them have been released.

Over 100 people were temporarily detained in Bengaluru along with historian Ramchandra Guha, who was dragged away by police in the middle of a television interview. In parts of Lucknow and Gujarat’s Ahmedabad, the protesters clashed with police.

Curfew was declared in Mangaluru, where police had opened fire, reports said.

Protests were held in 13 major cities around the country over the new law that’s emerging as the biggest challenge to Mr Modi’s government since he was elected in 2014.

Mr Guha likened the burgeoning anger to a few major crises since ind­e­p­endence, starting with Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by rightwing Hindu nationalists, the emergency and other setbacks, including the massacre of Sikhs in 1984.

Amid the countrywide unrest over the new citizenship law, Chief Minister Banerjee has stood out. Addressing a huge rally in Kolkata — part of a 10-city protest — she said: “If BJP has guts, it should go for a UN-monitored referendum on the amended Citizenship Act and NRC”.

Addressing Prime Minister Modi and Mr Shah, she said. “Let’s have a vote. Just because you are majority, you can’t do just about anything. You are terrorising all the pillars of society”.

The contentious law promises citizenship to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who moved to India by 2014. Critics say the law challenges the foundations of India’s secular constitution by making religion a criterion for citizenship.

While the BJP has been accusing opposition parties of instigating violence, Ms Banerjee suggested an alternative theory. The BJP is buying skullcaps for its cadres, who, she said “vandalise properties to malign a particular community”.

The chief minister has refused to implement the new law and the National Registry of Citizens — meant to eventually help purge illegal migrants — which the government plans to take across the country after its introduction in Assam earlier this year.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2019

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