India bids to bust ‘citizenship law myths’ with cartoon Muslims
No immediate plans to roll out citizens register, state says in advert after 17 deaths in protests
New Delhi — India's ruling party launched a video with animated Muslim characters on social media on Monday as part of a publicity blitz to try to bust “myths” around a new citizenship law that has sparked deadly protests.
The law has stoked concerns that Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government wants to marginalise India’s Muslim minority. The short video clip shows two bearded men in traditional Muslim clothing discussing the legislation before concluding that the country can only progress if there is “peace and brotherhood”.
The video, which was released by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party on its Twitter handle, has garnered thousands of “likes”, but also some ridicule.
The ruling right-wing government also carried an advertisement across all national dailies, with a “myths vs facts” explainer to show the law was not against India’s 200-million Muslims. The advert stated that there were no immediate plans to roll out a nationwide register of citizens, which has stoked fears of Muslims and others unable to prove they are Indian becoming stateless. Even if the register would be rolled out, “the guidelines would be framed such that no Indian citizen would face any harassment whatsoever”, the advertisement read.
The wave of protests across the country marks the biggest challenge to Modi’s government since sweeping to power in the world’s largest democracy in 2014. At least 25 people have died over a span of two weeks.
The citizenship law, passed by parliament earlier in December, allows people of six religions from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan an easier path to citizenship. Islamic groups, the opposition and others at home and abroad fear this forms part of Modi’s aim to remould the country as a Hindu nation, which his government denies.
Demonstrations have been largely peaceful but protesters have also hurled rocks and torched vehicles, while heavy-handed police tactics including the storming of a Delhi university a week ago have fuelled anger. Authorities have cut mobile internet access in places and imposed emergency laws banning assemblies.
In a speech on Sunday, Modi sought to reassure the Muslim community saying they “don’t need to worry at all” and laying emphasis on India’s diversity. In the next few days, his party says, it will contact more than 30-million families, organise countrywide rallies and hold over 250 press conferences to dispel doubts over the new law.
The protests first started in the northeastern state of Assam and have since spread to the rest of the country, with Uttar Pradesh — a tinderbox state with a population of more than 200- million — reporting the most deaths. Seventeen people have died, mostly from firearm injuries, in the state including a schoolboy who was crushed during a stampede that broke out as police tried to disperse the protesters.
Fresh protests were planned on Monday in New Delhi as well as in Kochi in the south.