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  • Police chase away demonstrators during a protest against a new citizenship law, in New Delhi.

    Police chase away demonstrators during a protest against a new citizenship law, in New Delhi. | Photo: Reuters

Published 15 December 2019
Opinion

Since the new law was voted in on Dec. 11, protests across India have not stopped, with a death toll already reaching six people.

Indian police violently clashed Sunday with thousands of protesters in India’s capital, New Delhi, as mass demonstrations against the controversial Citizenship Amendment law continued for the fifth consecutive day in the country.

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Since the new law was voted in on Dec. 11, protests across India have not stopped, with a death toll already reaching six people, including four killed by the security forces.

Far-right Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say it will save religious minorities such as Hindus and Christians from persecution in neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan by offering them a path to Indian citizenship.

But critics and opposition parties say the law, which excludes Muslims, is unconstitutional as it bases citizenship on people’s religion and will marginalize India’s 200 million Muslim citizens.

On Sunday, police resorted to baton charges and fired tear gas on protesters, according to a Reuters witness who reported that the stretch of road where the demonstrators had gathered was strewn with glass, stones, broken bits of bricks and overturned motorcycles.

Later in the evening, the police raided the Jamia Milia Islamia University campus where many protesters were believed to have fled, and fired tear gas on the campus, marching some students out while arresting others.

“Police have entered the campus by force, no permission was given. Our staff and students are being beaten up and forced to leave the campus,” Waseem Ahmed Khan, a senior faculty member of the university told Reuters.

Students at the university found refuge in the library after police fired tear gas, said Tehreem Mirza, a student.

“Police are inside the campus and have been firing shells for a while. That’s why we went to hide in the library. Then we came out, we were walking on the footpath, they told us to put our hands up...Why should we do that? We are not criminals, we are students,” said Mirza. “We saw smoke and burned buses, but that wasn’t us. If someone did something from our community, that doesn’t mean it was us.”

Another student at the university, Mohmmad Minhaj Uddin, told Al Jazeera he was beaten by police and wounded in his eye.

"I don't know why I was beaten up. I wasn't even protesting. I was in the university library when police entered the campus," he said. More than 60 students were brought to nearby hospitals with injuries, an official at a hospital told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.

Police defended their move to charge the campus saying they only entered as they were being hit with stones from within.

“We had no intention of entering the university campus, we only want to maintain peace and order,” said Chinmoy Biswal, a senior police officer in the area.

In view of the events, authorities ordered all schools in southeast Delhi to remain closed on Monday. Two people died on Thursday in Guwahati, the capital of Assam and the state's most important city.

In parts of eastern India, protests against the law also continued. A highway connecting the states of West Bengal and Assam - a region located between Bangladesh, China and Myanmar and where tensions are high - was blocked in several places after protesters burned tires. Incidents were also reported in the eastern state of Bihar.

While Internet services were suspended in parts of West Bengal, state chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who spoke against the law, urged the people for peace saying that a “section of people are trying to take advantage of the situation and incite communal disharmony.”

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