New Delhi — Curfew-like restrictions have been imposed across vast swathes of India as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government tries to quell nationwide protests against India’s controversial religion-based law.
The entire state of Uttar Pradesh, with a population of 200-million, has been placed under a law banning gatherings of more than four people as has the tech hub of Bengaluru as well as parts of the capital New Delhi. Protests are expected to begin again on Thursday afternoon in 13 major cities around the country — the eighth day of unrest that’s posing the biggest challenge to Modi’s government since he was elected in 2014.
The police chief in Uttar Pradesh, governed by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, recorded a video telling parents to stop their children from joining protests.
Demonstrations are taking place at Delhi’s Mughal-era Red Fort, from where Indian prime ministers address the nation every Independence Day, while another protest is expected to march towards the heavily guarded parliament. Protests are planned across a dozen Indian cities and towns against the Citizenship Amendment Act that bars undocumented Muslims from neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan from seeking citizenship while allowing in migrants from other religions.
Since the law was passed on December 11, protests have spread across the nation, raising fears it could damage India’s traditional secular ethos enshrined in its constitution that treats all religions on par.
The new law is seen as a precursor to India’s powerful minister Amit Shah’s plan to implement a nationwide citizens register to weed out illegal migrants. Demonstrations first began in the eastern state of Assam where there are fears the new law will allow an influx of migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. About 1.9-million people in Assam — many of them Muslims — risk losing their Indian citizenship after the state enforced the citizens register in August.
“Our paranoid rulers in Delhi are scared. Our home minister would not dare allow a peaceful protest,” prominent historian and government critic Ramachandra Guha said after he was detained at a protest meet in Bangalore. “Everyone should stand up, the entrepreneurs of Bangalore should stand up. Do they want this image to go around, that we are a quasi dictatorship? We are here to assert our democratic rights.”