Hundreds of activists on Sunday took to the streets for a fifth straight day to protest a controversial Indian citizenship law, with over 100 protesters injured in capital New Delhi after police used tear gas and baton charges to disperse them.
Thousands of protesters had gathered at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi to protest the new law, reported news agency Reuters. Police tried to contain them, provoking clashes in which buses, cars and motorcycles were also vandalized. “Many of them have fracture injuries. We are running out of plaster for casts,” Inamul Hassan, an official at the Alshifa Hospital located near the university, told Reuters. Over 80 people with injuries had been brought to the hospital, he added.
The Bharatiya Janata Party of Indian P.M. Narendra Modi claims the new law, the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019, will protect religious minorities in neighboring Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It grants Indian nationality to any non-Muslim migrant from these states who arrived in India prior to 2015. Critics have slammed it for making religion a requirement for nationality, weakening the secularism enshrined in the country’s constitution.
Independent news agencies have reported that police fired tear gas on protesters at the university, storming the campus grounds in pursuit of anyone who tried to flee. “About 4,000 people were protesting and police did what they did to disperse them when the crowd burnt buses,” Chinmoy Biswal, a senior police officer in the area, claimed to Reuters. “If it had been a peaceful mob it would have been dispersed peacefully.”
Jamia Millia Islamia Vice Chancellor Nazma Akhtar has released a video message for students in which she said she would protest the excessive use of force by police, reported India Today.
Local authorities have ordered all schools in southeast Delhi to remain closed on Monday. Jamia Millia had already said that it was closing early for the winter break. The Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh announced it was also shutting early for the break after student protesters clashed with police on Sunday.
Protests against the new law have broken out nationwide in India, but are especially concentrated in the states of Assam, Tripura and West Bengal, which have large migrant populations from Bangladesh. Locals have long claimed that state resources are being used to help the migrants at the expense of Indian citizens and they are now slamming Delhi for granting citizenship to what they claim are illegal residents. In a bid to stem the protests, authorities have blocked internet access in several parts of the country.
Modi and the opposition Congress party have blamed each other for the violence, with the P.M. claiming it is inciting violence, and the opposition saying the government has failed to maintain peace.